The Go for Green® (G4G) 2.0 food and recipe coding criteria are based on established guidelines, such as the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 20101 and subsequently 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans2, Military Dietary Reference Intakes (MDRIs)3, joint regulation Nutrition and Menu Standards for Human Performance Optimization (AR 40–25/ OPNAVINST 10110.1/ MCO 10110.49/AFI 44–141)4, Department of Defense Food Service Program (DoDI 1338.10)5, and Joint Subsistence Policy Board DoD Menu Standards (DoDM 1338.10)6. G4G coding criteria also consider the specific and unique nutrition needs of the military community, where certain nutrient requirements are affected by extreme physical activity and environments3.
Through its criteria for Green-coded foods and beverages, G4G promotes a balanced nutrient-dense eating pattern of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, low-fat dairy products, and healthful fats, which mirrors the focus of the 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. This dietary pattern optimizes intake of naturally occurring electrolytes (such as potassium, calcium, and magnesium), antioxidants, phytochemicals, vitamins, minerals, and dietary fiber. When Service Members select appropriately across all food groups, they eat a balance of macronutrients (carbohydrates, protein, and fats) and micronutrients to optimize performance, readiness, and health.
The G4G Criteria consider the complexity of the overall nutritional value of a food, beverage, or recipe and summarize the results in one of three easy-to-read color codes: Green, Yellow, or Red. This stoplight-labeling system makes it easier for Service Members to identify the best fuel for their performance and health. Research supports using stoplight-labeling systems because consumers find the information effective and easy to understand7. There already is a strong association between colors (Green, Yellow, and Red) and meaning (Green means “go”) 8, which minimizes the amount of education Service Members need on how to use G4G.
G4G promotes eating more Green-coded foods—to at least half of all food choices—when feasible. Yellow- and Red-coded menu items still will be offered daily in military dining facilities. These items provide variety and fit into an overall nutritious eating pattern when consumed in moderation. Red-coded “comfort” foods and beverages also can help boost morale at times.
Revision and Approval Cycle
The science and research in the field of nutrition is constantly evolving. Therefore, G4G coding criteria will be reviewed, updated, and reapproved for major changes every five years to include the latest nutrition information and recommendations. In addition, G4G Criteria review and reapproval will occur when significant changes are made to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Nutrition Facts panel or when substantial policy changes are made requiring alignment. The next scheduled criteria review will occur in 2020 in order to allow time for adoption of the revised G4G 2.0 initiative as determined by each Service. In addition, this time point will align with the publication of the 2020–2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
Alignment with G4G Coding Algorithm
The G4G Coding Algorithm is the practical application of the G4G Criteria, which are evidence-based but not readily operationalized. These two documents enable G4G coding, or the assignment of color codes to menu items. To maintain standardization, only a Certified G4G Coder can assign color and sodium codes to menu or ready-to-use items.
Evidence Basis for Criteria by Component
G4G 2.0 color-code assignment of foods and beverages is based on the following criteria: saturated fats, fiber, sugar, processing, and total fat. No one criterion (fat, sugar, fiber, etc.) determines the color code for an item; instead, coding is assigned based on a combination of all criteria. Similarly, no single ingredient determines the color code of a recipe. A few exceptions—such as the presence of MSG, use of trans fats, or deep-fry cooking method—result in an automatic Red code. The G4G Criteria aim to identify the overall nutritional quality of foods and beverages. Items coded Green must provide nutritional value, not just lack undesirable nutrients. The following table is a snapshot of the criteria and is not meant as a coding tool.
The 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans emphasize limiting saturated fats to less than 10% of daily calories2. Encouraging the consumption of natural oils from plants (for example, canola, olive, and safflower), nuts, seeds, seafood, olives, and avocados promotes monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids over saturated and trans fat. G4G Criteria reflect this nutritional goal.
Given the evidence-based link between trans fats and cardiovascular risk, the 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends limiting trans-fat consumption to a minimum2. Despite a decrease in use, artificial trans fats from partially hydrogenated oils are still found in some margarines and packaged foods. Naturally occurring trans fats are found in small amounts in dairy and meat and do not need to be entirely avoided.
G4G Criteria support limiting trans-fat consumption by coding all packaged foods, ready-to-eat items, and recipes containing ingredients with artificial trans fats as Red. The absence of trans fats will be determined by the ingredients list for products showing zero grams of trans fats on the Nutrition Facts panel. In addition, all deep-fried foods, including those that are pre-deep fried and heated in an oven, such as French fries, are automatically coded Red.
The Institute of Medicine recommends women 50 and younger consume 25 grams of fiber and men 50 and younger consume 38 grams of fiber per day9. Food-labeling guidelines indicate that “good” sources of fiber must contain ≥2.5 grams (or 10% of the recommended daily value of 25 grams) and “high-fiber” sources must contain ≥5 grams (or 20% of the recommended daily value of 25 grams) 10. These calculations are based on recommendations for women. To account for the recommended 38 grams per day for men, “good” sources of fiber would contain ≥3.8 grams and “high-fiber” sources would contain ≥7.6 grams. G4G Criteria use an adaptation of the official fiber recommendations and FDA food-labeling guidelines. The criteria for “good” sources of fiber at 3–6 grams and “high-fiber” sources at >6 grams align with the Institute of Medicine’s recommendations for men and women.
FDA has proposed a new dietary fiber definition that includes “added (isolated or synthetic) non-digestible carbohydrates (≥3 monomeric units) that FDA has determined to have a physiological benefit11.” G4G Criteria will be updated based on further guidance from FDA regarding added non-digestible carbohydrates, such as inulin, found in packaged foods and not yet proven to be beneficial.
The 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends a daily maximum consumption of 10% of calories from added sugar2. Current information about added sugar is either limited or unavailable for most foods and beverages; therefore, the following approach uses total sugar (grams) to approximate the recommendation based on added sugars. To obtain sugar recommendations, G4G nutrition experts applied the 10% maximum recommendation to a 2,800-calorie diet, on which the Basic Daily Food Allowance (BDFA) is based. The recommendation of 70 grams of added sugar as the daily maximum was doubled to 150 grams to account for naturally occurring sugars. To translate this recommendation into G4G Criteria, G4G nutrition experts conducted a detailed review of food categories where the presence of sugar would be expected (for example, beverages, desserts, yogurts, and sauces) and identified low, moderate, and high levels of total sugar per category.
When the new Nutrition Facts panel includes “Added Sugars” on packaged products beginning in 201812, the G4G evaluation criteria will be revised: Products and recipes will be evaluated based on “added sugars” instead of “total sugars.”
Non-nutritive sweeteners are a popular replacement for the calories from added sugar found in beverages, yogurts, and desserts. However, the research is inconclusive about their effectiveness for long-term weight management2. Given non-nutritive sweeteners have not been found to be healthful or provide any nutritional value, beverages (that is, “diet” drinks) and foods containing non-nutritive sweeteners do not meet the G4G Criteria to qualify as Green-coded choices. These will code Yellow, at most.
Nutrition recommendations have shifted focus from percentage of calories from total fat to the types of fat. “Calories from fat” was removed from the updated Nutrition Facts panel to reflect new scientific information that shows the type of fat is more important to health than the amount of fat12. The benefits of the Mediterranean Diet—which is high in unsaturated fats from olive oil, nuts, and seeds—are well documented. Research has shown the benefits of the Mediterranean-style eating pattern on cardiovascular risk factors, which experts attribute to the combination of high-unsaturated-fat and low-saturated-fat content13.
G4G Criteria reflect the updated research and recommendations on total fat by focusing on the types of fat. This allows for highly nutritious foods such as nuts, seeds, avocadoes, and healthful oils—which would be coded Red based on their percentages of calories from fat—to be coded Green instead.
Recommendations in the 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans move away from an emphasis on individual nutrients and foods and instead focus on a healthy-eating pattern by encouraging the consumption of nutrient-dense foods and beverages across and within all food groups2. Recipes made with minimally processed or mostly whole-food ingredients such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, seafood, lean meats and poultry, eggs, legumes, nuts, seeds, and oils contribute to a healthy eating pattern. Processing ingredients—such as with refined grains, meats/poultry, and processed packaged foods—might remove healthy nutrients, such as key vitamins or fiber, and add undesirable components such as saturated or trans fats.
G4G Criteria mirror the 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans by coding minimally processed foods Green to encourage their intake. Moderately processed packaged foods and ingredients tend to be coded Yellow, while highly processed packaged foods and ingredients code Red.
Monosodium glutamate (MSG) occurs naturally in many foods and is also a popular food additive due to its flavor enhancing properties. According to DoD Manual 1338.10 section 10b, “Products containing monosodium glutamate as an ingredient must be avoided6.”
Research has shown that caffeine use is associated with increased alertness and enhanced physical performance14. Moderate caffeine use is generally safe. However, there is a wide range of individual response to caffeine (that is, caffeine sensitivity) affected by factors including genetics, stimulant or drug use, stress, and relevant health conditions14. Given these findings, G4G Criteria do not incorporate caffeine level into coding for food and beverages, but encourage Service Members to be mindful of their caffeine consumption through G4G educational material and resources such as Operation Supplement Safety. Unsweetened teas and coffees fall into the Green category. As beverages combine caffeine along with added sugar or high saturated-fat ingredients, they tend to code as Yellow or Red.
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- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture. (2010). Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010. Retrieved from https://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/dga2010/dietaryguidelines2010.pdf.
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture. (2015). 2015– 2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Retrieved from https://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/resources/2015-2020_Dietary_Guidelines.pdf.
- Baker-Fulco, C.J., Bathalon, G.P., Bovill, M.E., & Lieberman, H.R. (2001). Military Dietary Reference Intakes: Rationale for Tabled Values. Natick, MA: U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine.
- Army Regulation 40–25/ OPNAVINST 10110.1/ MCO 10110.49/AFI 44–141. (2017). Nutrition and Menu Standards for Human Performance Optimization. Washington, DC: Headquarters Departments of the Army, Navy, and Air Force.
- U.S. Department of Defense. (2012). Department of Defense Instruction 1338.10, Department of Defense Food Service Program.
- U.S. Department of Defense. (2014). Department of Defense Manual 1338.10, DoD Food Service Program (DFSP).
- Goodman, S., Hammond, D., Hanning, R., & Sheeshka, J. (2013). The impact of adding front-of-package sodium content labels to grocery products: an experimental study. Public Health Nutrition, 16(3), 383–391. https://doi.org/10.1017/S1368980012003485
- Liu, P.J., Wisdom, J., Roberto, C.A., Liu, L.J., & Ubel, P.A. (2014). Using behavioral economics to design more effective food policies to address obesity. Applied Economic Perspectives and Policy, 36(1), 6–24. https://doi.org/10.1093/aepp/ppt027
- Panel on Macronutrients, Panel on the Definition of Dietary Fiber, Subcommittee on Upper Reference Levels of Nutrients, Subcommittee on Interpretation and Uses of Dietary Reference Intakes, and the Standing Committee on the Scientific Evaluation of Dietary Reference Intakes. (2002). Dietary Reference Intakes for Energy, Carbohydrate, Fiber, Fat, Fatty Acids, Cholesterol, Protein, and Amino Acids. Retrieved from http://www.nationalacademies.org/hmd/Reports/2002/Dietary-Reference-Intakes-for-Energy-Carbohydrate-Fiber-Fat-Fatty-Acids-Cholesterol-Protein-and-Amino-Acids.aspx.
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration. (2013). Guidance For Industry: A Food Labeling Guide ( Appendix B: Additional Requirements for Nutrient Content Claims). Retrieved from https://www.fda.gov/media/81606/download.
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration. (2016). Nutrition & Supplement Facts Label Proposed Rule. Retrieved from http://www.fda.gov/downloads/Food/NewsEvents/WorkshopsMeetingsConferences/UCM403514.pdf.
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration. (2016). Changes to the Nutrition Facts Label. Retrieved from https://www.fda.gov/media/81606/download, 13 Sept 2016.
- Ros, E., Martinez-Gonzalez, M.A., Estruch, R., Salas-Salvado, J., Fito, M., Martinez, J.A., & Corella, D. (2014). Mediterranean Diet and Cardiovascular Health: Teachings of the PREDIMED Study. Advances in Nutrition, 5, 330S–336S. https://doi.org/10.3945/an.1005389
- Committee on Military Nutrition Research (2001). Caffeine for the Sustainment of Mental Task Performance: Formulations for Military Operations. DOI: https://doi.org/10.17226/10219