‘DAT’ is nutritious: Commissaries unveil dietitian-approved program that tags foods limiting added sugar, sodium, unhealthy fat while offering whole grains, healthy fats, fiber or lean protein
FORT LEE, Va. – Without a way to quickly identify nutrient-rich foods, commissary customers who want to make better food choices can spend a lot of time studying product labels.
The Defense Commissary Agency’s health and wellness team is looking to make that chore easier with the new Dietitian-Approved Thumb program, known as DAT.
The original program, the Nutrition Guide Program, initially debuting in January 2017 with the tagline “We Did the Work for You,” featured color-coded shelf tags throughout the store to help customers easily spot products featuring one or more of five popular nutritional attributes such as low sodium, whole grain, no-added sugar, low fat and high fiber. Approximately 630 products were identified and tagged based on these key Food and Drug Administration (FDA) nutrient attributes.
“While the initial program provided information that would help our customers make better nutritional choices, it only covered a few attributes for a limited number of products,” said Health and Wellness Program Manager Deborah Harris, MPH, RD, CDE (Masters of Public Health, registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator). “The new program is much more robust, covering most of the food items sold in the stores.”
In a comprehensive overhaul of the old program, DAT uses a unique software conceived by DeCA’s health and wellness team exclusively for commissary customers. This DeCA-built software has the ability to analyze and identify products in most of the commissary food categories based on up to 86 of the FDA-defined health attributes, not just six as in the previous program.
The attributes analyzed vary by food category but will better identify dietitian-approved foods that limit added sugar, sodium and unhealthy fat while offering whole grains, healthy fats, fiber or lean protein.
“Although ‘organics’ is not a nutrition attribute, in the software to support DAT, we went the extra mile to be able to identify all items that qualify for USDA Organic,” Harris said. “We know that for many, choosing organic is part of lifestyle, and we at DeCA want to support them in this health and wellness goal, too. Patrons will notice new organic tags throughout commissaries also.”
The products that emerge from this analysis, currently around 3,200 items, deliver a nutrition-rich punch for commissary customers and are marked on the shelves with a “Thumbs Up Dietitian-Approved” tag, replacing the limited attribute tag from the original program. This represents nearly 10 percent of all consumer-packaged goods in DeCA’s product portfolio.
“When this number is combined with our vast array of fresh produce and lean meat products, the case is made that we are the DOD asset that is a jewel when it comes to accessing a plethora of nutritious food choices,” Harris said. “I have known this all along, and am elated that now we can show the great work we do to support optimal fueling in our military community.”
Commissary customers can now quickly scan the shelves for products tagged with the ‘Thumbs Up’ DAT logo and, in choosing those, be assured they will be selecting high-nutrition-quality foods to incorporate into a healthy eating pattern. This program, Harris points out, also aligns very closely with DOD’s Go for Green nutrition initiative in military dining facilities.
“The program is highly anticipated by our DOD health and wellness stakeholders on the ground, who will use it to reinforce their health promotion efforts,” Harris said. “This is a benefit they will not find in commercial grocery stores. Building a basket with mostly fresh produce, lean meats and eggs, and ‘Thumbs Up’ items along with a few indulgences and treats will provide a diet with the beneficial nutrients your body needs without consuming too many empty calories.”
The “Thumbs Up Dietitian-Approved” products will be continually updated to ensure customers have as many options as possible to facilitate making good choices for a healthy diet.
“The old NGP tagline ‘We Did The Work For You’ still applies but now delivers customers an easier, much more robust program, both in quality and quantity, “ Harris said. “Right now, preparing meals at home is the norm and everyone is focused on what they are feeding their bodies. The new DAT program is a state-of-the-art resource to help our customers make the nutritious choices to maintain a balanced diet. And with DAT, those decisions have never been easier.”
About DeCA: The Defense Commissary Agency operates a worldwide chain of commissaries providing groceries to military personnel, retirees and their families in a safe and secure shopping environment. Commissaries provide a military benefit, saving authorized patrons thousands of dollars annually on their purchases compared to similar products at commercial retailers. The discounted prices include a 5-percent surcharge, which covers the costs of building new commissaries and modernizing existing ones. A core military family support element, and a valued part of military pay and benefits, commissaries contribute to family readiness, enhance the quality of life for America’s military and their families, and help recruit and retain the best and brightest men and women to serve their country.