Specific qualifying criteria were developed for 19 different product categories, such as beverages, cereals, meats, diary, and snacks, based on the presence of nutrients to limit (e.g., fats and added sugars), nutrients to encourage (e.g., calcium, vitamin C), and food groups to encourage (e.g., fruits and vegetables, whole grains). The Smart Choices Program was designed to be product category specific.

Nutrition Qualifying Criteria

The qualifying criteria were developed by a diverse coalition of scientists, academicians, health and research organizations, food and beverage manufacturers, and retailers. The criteria were derived from the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, FDA standards, reports from the Institute of Medicine, and other sources of authoritative dietary guidance. The criteria were designed to be flexible and adaptable – allowing for revisions to new public policy, dietary guidelines, and emerging authoritative science.

Every product was required to meet criteria for nutrients to limit before they could be considered for the program. These are nutrients identified by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans that are consumed in excess quantities by most Americans, such as saturated fat, cholesterol, and sodium.
Nutrients to Limit – General Benchmarks
Total Fat ≤ 35 % of calories
Saturated Fat < 10 % of calories
Trans Fat 0 g (labeled)
Cholesterol ≤ 60 mg per serving
Added Sugars ≤ 25 % of total calories
Sodium ≤ 480 mg per serving

In addition to nutrients to limit, products were required to include one or more nutrients to encourage (those nutrients that Americans do not always get enough of, such as calcium, vitamins A and C, potassium, and fiber) or food groups to encourage (as recommended in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans).
Nutrients to Encourage Calcium, Potassium, Fiber, Magnesium, Vitamin A, Vitamin C and Vitamin E A food must offer ≥10% Daily Value (a “good source”) of at least one of these nutrients
Food Groups to Encourage Fruits, Vegetables, Whole Grains, Fat-Free/Low-Fat Milk Products A food must provide at least ½ of a serving of one of these food groups

Product Categories

The Smart Choices Program developed 19 product categories that must meet the general qualifying criteria of nutrients to limit and nutrients or food groups to encourage. Each category was then evaluated to fine-tune the criteria so that it was in line with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and other sources of nutrition science and authoritative guidance. For a few select foods and beverages within a particular category, food-specific variations from the general benchmarks were established.
Product Category Qualifying Criteria
Fruits and Vegetables (with no additives) Automatically qualify
Fruits and Vegetables (with additives), 100% Juice Nutrients to limit and at least one nutrient or food group to encourage
Breads, Grains, Pasta Nutrients to limit and at least one nutrient or food group to encourage
Cereals Nutrients to limit and at least one nutrient or food group to encourage
Meat, Fish, Poultry Nutrients to limit only
Meat Alternatives Nutrients to limit and at least one nutrient or food group to encourage
Seeds, Nuts, Nut Butters Nutrients to limit only
Cheeses and Cheese Substitutes Nutrients to limit and at least one nutrient or food group to encourage
Milk, Dairy Products, and Dairy Substitutes (including Soy Beverages) Nutrients to limit and at least one nutrient or food group to encourage
Fats, Oils, Spreads (including Butter) Nutrients to limit only
Soups, Meal Sauces, and Mixed Side Dishes Nutrients to limit and at least one nutrient or food group to encourage
Entrees, Sandwiches, Main Dishes, and Meal Replacements Nutrients to limit and at least one nutrient or food group to encourage
Meals Nutrients to limit and at least one nutrient to encourage as well as 1.5 servings from food group to encourage
Sauces, Dressing, and Condiments Nutrients to limit and ≥ 1 nutrient or food group to encourage
Snack Foods and Sweets Nutrients to limit and at least one nutrient or food group to encourage
Desserts Nutrients to limit and ≥ 1 nutrient or food group to encourage
Beverages Nutrients to limit applies to all beverages, then:
if ≤ 20 calories/serving: nutrients to limit only
if ≤ 40 calories/serving: at least one nutrient or food group to encourage
if ≤ 60 calories/serving: at least one nutrient and food group to encourage
(4 oz juice = 1 food group)
Water (plain and carbonated) Automatically qualify
Chewing Gum Nutrients to limit and "sugar-free"

For more information, download the full nutrition criteria or visit the nutrition professionals section of our website.

Fact-Based Calorie Information

The Smart Choices Program included front-of-pack calorie information. Products that qualified for the Smart Choices Program symbol also displayed calorie information on the front of the package, disclosing the calories per serving and number of servings per container. The goal is to help people stay within their daily calorie needs and make it easier for calorie comparisons, again guiding food choices within product categories. Public policy consistently recommends that people consume a sound diet within an appropriate daily calorie intake to achieve and maintain a healthy weight.