WHAT WOULD YOU BUY IF THERE WERE NO NUTRITION INFORMATION ON FOOD LABELS?
This post was written during my 2 1/2 years as a blogger for Health Goes Strong. The site was deactivated in 2013, but you can see the original post here.
Food manufacturers have included ingredient lists, nutrition information and health claims on their packaging ever since they discovered it helped sell their products. The information wasn’t always accurate or ethical, but was always good for sales.
Recognizing the inherent danger in letting these practices go unregulated, Congress passed the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act (NLEA) in 1990. The current version of the Nutrition Facts panel has appeared on packaged foods and processed meats and poultry since 1994.
In addition to requiring nutrition labels on most foods, the NLEA also requires that nutrient content claims, such as “low fat” or “high fiber,” satisfy criteria established by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Additionally, all health claims describing a relationship between a food and a disease must be approved by the FDA. That is how statements such as, “Diets low in sodium may reduce the risk for high blood pressure, a disease associated with many factors” get on labels.
To make the job of finding the best food for our buck even easier, we now have “Front-of-Package” labels with abbreviated nutritional data and a variety of food rating systems, like NuVal, that use complex algorithms to rank all foods.
There is now an entire generation of Americans who have never seen a packaged food without a declaration of the serving size, calories per serving, total fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, sodium, total carbohydrate, dietary fiber, sugar and protein it contains. Are their diets better as a result? Not really and here’s why.
Taste continues to hold its position as the number one influence over our food purchasing decisions, according to the 2011 Food & Health Survey. Even though we have more information than ever about what’s in our food and what we need to eat to stay healthy, we aren’t making most of our decisions based on that.
This led me to wonder what we might put into our shopping carts if all those metric units, daily values and carefully worded claims suddenly went away?
Putting aside for a moment the concerns of those with serious food restrictions, I don’t think it would be such a bad thing if all we had to look at in the supermarket was food. Labels could tell us the basics, like “White Bread,” “Tomato Soup” or “Strawberry Yogurt.” We could still compare prices and look for good values and favorite brands, but what would end up on the check-out counter is what we think tastes best.
And that’s pretty much what we’re doing now. The only difference would be that without the hard sell we might actually enjoy our food a little more.
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