Clearer food labels in U.S. could help people make healthier choices

January 27, 2013 in Healthy Eating, Nutrition Topics in the News

Clearer food labels in U.S. could help people make healthier choices

Different labels on foods that clearly display the total number of calories and nutrients in the entire package, rather than just part of it, might help people make healthier food choices, according to a study from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The researchers found that people were best at assessing things like chips and frozen meals - and comparing the healthfulness of multiple products - when the nutrition facts were presented for the entire container's worth of food, or for both one serving and the entire container.

This does away with the need to multiply the nutrition facts listed by the number of servings per package if people want to eat it all, the researchers said.

The team surveyed close to 9,500 U.S. adults, showing them one of the 10 different types of food labels that presented calories and nutrients per serving, or per container, in a variety of ways.

Participants were asked how healthy they thought different products were, including how much fat, for example, was in one serving. They then compared types of chips or frozen meals to determine which was healthier.

Currently, manufacturers are given a lot of leeway when it comes to deciding how much a serving size is, say experts. To make products appear healthier, some companies have started increasing the number of servings listed per container, thus lowering the number of calories per serving.

It's still not known whether clearer nutrition facts would change what people choose to buy or eat, and it's also unclear if and when the FDA might issue changes to labeling requirements.

But having a system that lists the nutrients for one serving and an entire package - as some products do already - could help simplify things.

Source: Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, February 2103

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