But The Label Says It’s Good For Me!

You took an extra 10 minutes to study the front of the boxes of foods. You saw nutritional labels that read high-fiber, low-sugar, reduced-fat, whole-grain or heart healthy on the packaging so it must be all those things…right? I’m sorry to burst your ‘halo-effect’ bubble, but front-of-package labels are beginning to mean less and less as the loosely regulated manufacturing food environment pushes toward profits. The only place where they are required to be forthcoming is on the ingredient list. It’s required by law that manufacturers list all the ingredients in descending order. This means that the first ingredient listed is the one that there is the most of. So if you’re looking for a healthy cereal, the words whole grain, whole wheat, whole + name of grain, and NOT sugar, refined wheat, or words you can’t pronounce are higher on the list. Also, a healthy cereal should have 1g fiber for every 10g total carbohydrates.

A leading supporter for label changes is the acclaimed author of Slim By Design, and Mindless Eating Solutions for Everyday Life, Brian Wansick. Wansick is the director of the Food and Brand Lab at Cornell. Wansick explains that studies have found that consumers increasingly search for ‘good things’ added in their grocery-bought foods versus ‘bad things’ taken out. Ergo, manufacturers have obliged by inundating the front panel of packages with marketing tag lines that give them what they want. It’s like an ADHD moment of visual stimulation with every aisle. It’s exhausting at times. The irony of it all is the buyer who is ‘tricked’ most consistently is the one searching for the healthiest foods. They are reading those front labels. When I sent to college, studying business marketing, the professors called that ‘Bate and Switch’! Candy manufacturers have as far as engaging studies to establish what color packaging infers ‘healthy’, even in candy, to consumers. Green is the color that conveys that. Look at the candy aisle and see how many wrappers are green now.

In 2010, a report presented by the Center of Science in the Public Health Interest said that “many ingredient lists are intentionally unclear. They are often printed in small, condensed type, and many manufacturers use all capital letters that have been proven to me more difficult to read than upper and lower case letters. Some companies use one color type against poorly-contrasting backgrounds or put ingredient lists in a fold where it is not easily read by consumers.” (October 2013- EatingWell.com)

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