Healthy Labels

Putting labels on food is a historically recent phenomenon and a direct result of increased food production and knowledge.  We have finally developed the ability to produce enough food to give the common person the luxury of choosing what to eat whatever the season.  We have also gathered enough information about food and what the human body needs to function efficiently that there are recommended doses and healthy and unhealthy foods.  The process of eating food used to involve eating when hungry and not eating when not hungry.  Now we are surrounded by labels that tell us what to do and it has become an advertising race to the forefront of the grocery store.  Companies use buzz words like “heart healthy” and “natural” as well as eye-popping designs and wild, noticeable colors.  But with so much motivation from the seller to gain the customer’s attention besides the desire for them to live a healthy lifestyle, it can be difficult to trust what you see on these labels.

Retailers will do whatever they can to help separate themselves from their competition including stretching the truth in their labels on their products.  If retailers can put labels such as “natural” or “organic” or “grass-fed” on their product, they give themselves the opportunity to charge more.  Unfortunately, these labels do not always tell the whole story of the product because something may be GMO-free but unhealthy in other ways.  This makes it extremely difficult for consumers to decipher what products are healthiest (M. Hardesty, personal communication, September 6, 2015).  The company KIND and their bars have recently come under fire for advertising a gluten-free, GMO-free, antioxidant filled product implying an extremely healthy snack.  Unfortunately for them, the FDA deemed the bar unhealthy citing high saturated fat levels along with other violations of the labeling laws.  The labeling laws were put in place in an attempt to prevent companies from misleading consumer on their products, and KIND was in violation of those laws in their “good source of fiber” claim and their lack of a “not low-fat” label.  It is this kind of false advertising that makes it difficult to trust labels and there should be more enforcement on labels from the FDA and more research by the consumer.

Despite all of this, if we as consumers operate under the assumption that we cannot trust labels, then products with healthy labels are still better than the average product despite their violations.  Obviously, a KIND bar is healthier than a Snickers bar.  Customers then face the question of whether to spend more money on these “healthy” products or save money on cheaper, unhealthier products.  However, if consumers choose to spend the extra money on healthier products, they should have more comfort in knowing that the product is actually as healthy as advertised.  With this in mind, the FDA should do everything in their power to make sure labels are as accurate as possible.

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