We’re used to seeing the Energy Star rating system on our appliances, but are we ready to see it on our food? With so much interest in how Americans are eating lately, it’s no wonder that the Institute of Medicine (IOM) is proposing a change in the current food labeling system in an effort to declutter the nutrition claim overload seen on today’s food packaging.
The proposed labeling, which would appear on the front of packages and highlight a few top nutrients consumers are interested in, would allow consumers to more easily identify healthy options without having to spend too much time reading small print or interpreting the variety of health claims plastered on many of the products lining grocery store shelves.
Yet this isn’t the first front-of-package label to be introduced to consumers. In fact, the IOM’s label is just one of many new labels being touted as the “next best thing” in food packaging. Food companies have already begun to introduce their own line of similar labels designed to point out what makes their product better than their competitor’s variety. In fact, the IOM has quite the battle ahead as it attempts to put their unique mark on the foods we eat. Unfortunately, in the heat of that battle, consumers seeking better food choices may suffer in the short-term as they continue to make attempts to decode each unique food labeling system currently available.
With obesity and diet related diseases sky-rocketing, now is the time to get more serious about how we eat. By making labels more concise and easy to read, consumers will hopefully be able to make better food-related decisions for themselves. This can be accomplished by making pertinent nutrition information that is often not looked at by consumers in easy to find places; however, the IOM wants to go one step further by additionally incorporating a ranking system. This ranking system would be similar to the energy star rating system and allow consumers to even more efficiently identify what foods are good choices and which ones aren’t. Unfortunately, this may cause consumers to not understand the complexities of what they are eating or why and result in the reformulation of many products simply to get a better rating – healthy or not.
According to the IOM, now is the time to put a larger emphasis on healthy eating and to make the process as easy as possible for consumers. The new system is meant to be user-friendly and helpful. It’s important for consumers to realize though that it’s important to always go beyond the label to discover what they are eating and why. As the IOM continues to work on its new food label proposal, the Grocery Manufacturers Association has set up a voluntary labeling program called “Facts Up Front” which will identify how many calories, saturated fat, sodium, and sugar are in a particular product.
The nutrition facts panel will also remain intact for those looking to get a more in depth look at what’s in their food. Although understanding the nutrition facts label may seem overwhelming, it is definitely a helpful tool when learning to eat better. The information you find on the label will match the information you find on the front of packaging, but will also include additional information about the other nutrients found within that product.
Ingredient lists will also remain alongside the nutrition facts label so you can continue to see what actually comprises the food you eat. Of course, you have to turn the product around if you want to go beyond the mainstream concerns of the moment.
October 31st, 2011