Improving Nutrition Labels to Help Buyers Make Good Choices
Food and beverage companies need to upgrade the labels of their products to help consumers determine whether the product is really nutritious or not.
Why Change is Needed?
Product labels use different rating systems making it difficult for consumers to know if a product is healthy. Instead of a rating system that speaks the language of a nutrition expert, a system that an average consumer can identify and easily understand must be used.
A report by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) Committee suggests using a rating that makes use of symbols to display the calorie count per serving of the product. In addition, they recommend a point system that shows whether the trans fat, saturated fat, sodium and sugar content of the product is healthy or not.
Although most products on the market have front-package labels, the varying nutrition symbols and information are confusing to shoppers.
The Alternative Nutrition Label
There needs to be standardized front packaging labels. This will encourage manufacturers to formulate and make available healthier products on the market shelves.
It must be visual
The IOM’s idea is to have the U.S. FDA and the USDA develop a standard visual food label, similar to the label used by the government for the Energy Star program to rate the energy efficiency of electrical appliances.
It must be on the same location on products
The food and beverage companies must put the food label on the same place on the product to show the USDA’s recommendation.
With this system in place, it will be easy for consumers to compare products within the same food category.
Products are evaluated according to a standard
A product can only carry the healthy food label after being rated based on the developed point system. The recommended evaluation points include primarily the product’s fat, sugar and salt content. These points of comparison are chosen because of their association to common health issues, such as obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes.
A product must meet the acceptable limits of sugar, salt, and fat content to be qualified to have the “healthy” food label.
To illustrate the point system, whole wheat bread can get 3 points, graham crackers can get 2 points and an oat-peanut butter bar can get 1 point. The product with higher points implies that it is healthier than others.
Nutrition is a complicated subject; that is why present nutrition labels are confusing to laymen.
Not everyone can understand the current labeling system nor the Nutrition Facts Panel. By simplifying the labeling, it might work better in enabling the consumers to make healthier choices.
A possible problem in the rating system is the application of the standards on food products. It’s possible that some healthy foods will be given lower points, while other less-healthy foods will be given more points. It is important that the system will be simple and give accurate information on the products sold.
The Grocery Manufacturers Association’s Labeling System
There is already a front-of-pack nutrition labeling system in place established by the Grocery Manufacturers Association together with the Food Marketing Institute. It aims to help busy consumers to make better choices when shopping.
The idea and suggestions in the IOM report serves as an additional input for the improvement of nutrition labeling.
Photo credits: Image by ilovebutter via Flickr, CC By-2.0