Why Nobody Needs Nutrition Labels

By Dr. Dina Rose

A big thank you to Dr. Dina Rose for giving CTF permission to re-post this fabulous piece about nutrition labels. Dr. Rose is a food sociologist who writes It’s Not About Nutrition, a wildly informative blog about teaching kids to eat right.

EVEN THOUGH PARENTS TALK A LOT ABOUT THE IMPORTANCE OF good nutrition, recent research suggests that what matters most to shoppers is

- Saving money
– Saving time
– Accommodating our kids’ taste preferences

Want to get through the grocery store quickly – and with the most nutritious food you can buy? Here’s a radical idea:  Forget about reading nutrition labels.  Why?

First of all, nutrition labels can be a waste of time.

Nutrition labels unnecessarily complicate your shopping experience.  If you are going to use them properly, you have to sift through a ton of information, remember what to look for, and compare the nutrition labels across all similar products.  Only then can you pick the best food for your family.

Maybe that’s why most people don’t read them anyway.  And those of us who do read them, don’t consider the full range of information.  Instead we tend to track only certain nutrients, such as sugar or fat. But this strategy can be misleading: lots of low fat foods, for example, are extremely high in sugar and lots of reduced sugar items have limited amounts of fiber.

Second, nutrition labels can lead you astray.

Finding the best nutrition label on your kids’ favorite foods – macaroni and cheese for instance – gives you a false sense of security because even the best box is probably not that good for you.

Nutrition labels are only useful for choosing foods when it comes to buying processed foods and processed foods are almost always less-than-optimal.  After all, it’s not like you need a nutrition label to assess the quality of the broccoli you buy.

Third, nutrition labels can wreck your kids’ eating habits.

Eating lots of processed foods – the only items in the grocery store that you can’t automatically know how healthy they are just by looking at them – pulls your kids’ taste buds away from the fresh fruits and vegetables you want them to eat and moves them towards the junky stuff you’re trying to get them to avoid.

So, give yourself a break, and shop in a way that makes the labels unnecessary.

Adopt a strategy of buying mostly unprocessed foods and then it won’t really matter whether you buy slightly (or extremely) inferior processed foods.  They won’t be a significant part of your kids’ diet.  And the added bonus?  Your kids will learn to eat their veggies.  It’s kind of like having your cake and eating it too.

~ Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits. ~

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Sources: Maubach, N., J. Hoek, and T. McCreanor. 2009. “An Exploration of Parents’ Food Purchasing Behaviors.” Appetite 53:297-302; Feunekes, G. I. J., I. A. Gortemaker, A. A. Willems, R. Lion, and M. van den Kommer. 2008. “Front-of-Pack Nutrition Labelling: Testing, Effectiveness of Different Nutrition Labelling Formats Front-of-Pack in Four European Countries.” Appetite 50: 57-70.

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