Take a look at Time online, with a good writeup of the confusing front-of-pack labels that shoppers for healthy food are seeing in supermarkets these days. The article covers the following systems, with commentary on pros and cons of each.
There are problems with front of package labeling, as the article states.
For standards created by the food industry, such as Smart Choices and Nutrition at a Glance, there is no credibility. The companies want us to believe their products are healthier than they truly are, and thus provide partial, lopsided information on the front of pack, creating an unbalanced picture of their wares. Thus, products such as Apple Jacks and Froot Loops were bequeathed with a “Smart Choices” logo. Thankfully, that program has been eradicated.
For independent or government created standards, another problem arises. Over time, manufacturers try to “game” the system. By understanding what parameters bump up a product score, they can reformulate their products so they gain a coveted check mark or health claim.
Now, if the the reformulations were of true nutritional value, this would be a great achievement. Unfortunately, in many cases, the improvements are window-dressing. A junk food injected with some vitamin and mineral fortifications is still a junk food. A fatty product that lost some oils to qualify for the American Heart Association’s Heart Check, but as a result added chemicals, salt and sugar to the mix, may actually be worse for us than the original.
What to do at the supermarket:
There is no simple and quick answer to the question of what foods to choose. It is always an optimization exercise with the following parameters: nutrition, price, taste, and convenience. But no matter where you draw your family’s line, you should try to base your decisions on a complete information set.
In that respect, many front of pack nutrition markings are doing you a disservice. So spend another minute or two to read the ingredient list and nutrition facts panel. And if you have any questions, let us know. Fooducate is here for you.