Posts Tagged ‘Consumer Protection’
How many servings do you get out of one muffin? The obvious answer – one – is incorrect. The right amount is two. Why? Because that is how food manufacturers calculate calories, fat, cholesterol, sodium, carbohydrates, fiber, sugars, protein and other ingredients. It’s not the individual item or container that counts but how it is divided up, often in the most arbitrary ways.
The so-called nutrition facts labels you find on the back of all packaged food and beverage products are not only hard to decipher, they mislead consumers who are already confused about their dietary needs.
It has been 20 years since the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has last addressed the issue of food labeling. To overhaul the current regulations, the agency commissioned a new study to determine how labels could be simplified to help consumers make healthier food choices and limit portions. Confusion over serving sizes is considered a contributing cause to obesity.
For the study, researchers developed alternative displays of nutritional details based on whole food and beverage containers instead of serving sizes.
“The nutrition facts label is only one tool that can help consumers make informed food choices […], but it is a valuable tool, so it is important to continue exploring ways to support effective use of the label for these purposes,” said Dr. Serena C. Lo, one of the study leaders, in an interview with BusinessNewsDaily.
The researchers also found that the percentage of consumers who actually read food labels before purchasing products they are unfamiliar with has risen from 44 percent in 2002 to 54 percent in 2008.
One of the reasons why dividing entire package contents into smaller serving sizes is so important to the food industry is that the apportionment is a useful tool for making products sound healthier than they are. For example, if one serving has only a miniscule amount of a certain ingredient, e.g. trans fat, it can be labeled as 0 percent, while the whole package may contain significantly more.
It is not clear whether giving people information per content or per serving would make much of a difference in their eating behavior. Would they stop gorging themselves on potato chips half way through the bag if they knew the amounts of calories and fat up front instead of having to do math themselves? Doubtful.
But that’s not really the point. What the issue of food labeling comes down to is the right of us consumers to know what we eat. Just like we should have full disclosure about genetically modified foods, pink slime or meat glue, we should have access to information on our entire food supply. Anything short of that is deception.
The U.S. Pharmacopeial Convention, a nonprofit organization that sets standards for identity and quality of medicines and food ingredients worldwide, defines the “deliberate substitution, addition, tampering or misrepresentation of food, food ingredients or food packaging, or false or misleading statements made about a product for economic gain” as “food fraud.” Where are we willing to draw the line?
Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog and at amazon.com. For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (www.timigustafson.com). You can follow Timi on Twitter and on Facebook.