Monday, August 8, 2016

Do Nutritional Labels Make Us Eat Smarter?

I’m sure you’ve seen it. It’s right there on almost every packaged good in your grocery store, detailing everything from calorie number to calorie size on a white label with black text.

What is “it”? It’s those federally mandated “nutrition facts.”

For years, the look of the label has remained the same. Now, thanks to a new FDA directive, the fonts for calories, servings per container, and service size are getting bolder and bigger. Ideally, you won’t need a magnifying lens anymore to see these numbers.

Yet as prominent and prevalent as this new packing promises to be, here’s something we rarely ask: Will it work? That is, will the fact that you know how much fat your favorite candy bar contains alter your eating habits? Or have customers become blasé about these stickers?

The question isn’t abstract, but goes to the heart of a multimillion-dollar effort by industry and government to make people eat smarter.

Here’s an example: While the labels will continue to catalog various fats — total, saturated, and trans — calories are getting the axe. That’s because knowing what type of fat you’re chowing down on is more important than knowing how many calories you’re consuming.

Yet how many of us can define what a “saturated fat” actually is? How about a “transfat”? More important, how many of us know the true effect these substances have on our health?

Here’s the truth — from a senior retail executive with decades of experience: Saturated fats, which were once considered bad, are now looked upon neutrally. Transfats are the worst. And we all should eat more monounsaturated fat (which is found in olive oil, among other things).

How do I know this? Because I’m a label reader. Because I view knowledge as power. Because I believe I am what I eat, and what I eat has the ability to make me healthier, wealthier, and wiser.

Manufacturers have until July 26, 2018 to comply with the new nutrition facts. Americans should welcome this deadline to get smarter about what we’re putting in our bodies.