When choosing the food you buy, are you influenced by the front of package labels? If you answered yes, then you need to continue reading.
Front of package labels consist of words, symbols, or pictures on the packaging that contains food that make health and nutrition claims. These can include:
● Low fat
● Low in sugar
● The heart symbol
These labels were thought, to offer an easy and convenient way for shoppers to make better, more informed choices for a healthy diet. However, it has been recently coming to light that these labels may not only be confusing, but in many cases downright deceitful. This has led to leading consumer groups to start advocating for transparency in labeling, they are even calling on both food manufacturers and the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) to correct these misleading claims.
Although the FDA has criteria and definitions for food labeling claims, many feel that they need a fair bit of amending to prevent food companies from placing misleading nutrition claims on their packaging. In order to understand how such misleading claims are allowed on packages, you must first look at some of the FDA criteria.
Nutrient Content Claims
These are relative to established values such as RDI (Reference Daily Intake) for minerals and vitamins. For example, “high calcium” means that the item has a 20% (or higher) value than the percent daily value or RDI stated on the nutritional facts label. Another example is “reduced sodium/sugar/fat,” which means that the sodium sugar or fat content are lower than a similar product, but necessarily low in general. Then there is every health conscious consumers favorite word, “Healthy”. This implies a nutrient content claim that is meant to satisfy criteria such as; lowered levels of cholesterol, saturated fat, lower sodium levels, or that the product has an adequate source of some specified nutrient -a claim that does not necessarily constitute as healthy. This is most likely why many businesses have been contacted by the FDA to inform them that their labels are making either unrealistic or misleading claims.
Don’t believe everything that you read (especially on the front of the package)
It’s important to understand that although a food packaging claim may be “accurate” and it falls within the FDA’s criteria, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it is a good, healthy option. A “sugar-free” claim, for example, does not always mean that you are purchasing food that is high in nutrition or wholesome in any way. In fact, a myriad of foods can be manufactured to meet FDA criteria – leading many to believe that front of package labeling is used more as marketing device than as an easy way for consumers to make healthy choices.
Would you prefer to make healthier food choices?
When it comes to making better choices, the last place we should be looking (in my opinion at least) is on the front of the package. In fact, all you need to know about the products nutritional value can be found on the back of the packaging, where you will find both the ingredients list and Nutritional Facts label.
Eating healthy also means sticking to more ‘real’ foods like fresh fruits and vegetables or purchasing foods that have a short list of ingredients that are entirely recognizable. Try avoiding foods that have unfamiliar, or particularly long ingredient lists, as the chances are that these are more often chemical additives that are not good for our bodies.