We’ve looked at misleading front of package claims and we’ve explored the minefields present in the ingredient list. This week, we evaluate the nutrition panel. It may be less helpful than you think.
The Nutrition Panel is another tightly regulated space on any packaged food. Just like the Ingredient List, the Nutrition Panel’s appearance is highly standardized, by law. The intent is to make it easy to find information about the nutrient composition of any food item - and help consumers compare food products. It’s a place we’re told to go to every time we are considering putting something into our shopping cart to better evaluate the quality of the food we are about to consume.
So let’s take a look at a couple of nutrition panels and more critically evaluate what they tell us.
After comparing them can you tell which is the better option?
If you’re having a tough time choosing, don’t feel bad. In many ways, these nutrition panels are fairly interchangeable. Yes, one has more fiber while the other has less sugar and more protein - together with a day’s worth of vitamin C - but on balance, it’s a toss-up.
What if I told you that one panel was for 16 Gummy Bears and the other was for 2 apples?
Apples are the ones with the fiber, by the way.
So the nutrition panel can also lead you astray – because it looks primarily at macronutrients. And that’s only the thirty thousand foot view. There’s simply way more to an apple than fat, cholesterol, sodium, protein and sugars. But little more than that to the Gummy Bears. Turns out, not all sugar is the same. And just because you get a 100% of something doesn’t mean the delivery vehicle is health promoting.
Which is why the government is updating the Nutrition Panels so that they are more helpful to consumers. Below are what the revamped panels would look like for the same apples and the Gummy Bears:
So what’s changed?
Calories per serving are now boldly highlighted and there’s a lot of emphasis on making sure that serving size is presented clearly and realistically. So no more half a muffin being a serving - because who’s kidding who? And added sugars are listed separately. This is significant as added sugars provide little nutritional value - while promoting cholesterol profile abnormalities, blood sugar elevations and weight gain.
Getting to these changes took a long time and the new labels will be making their way onto product packaging ever so slowly. Yet even with these changes, the information is still relatively superficial and generally inadequate to truly judge the quality of what you’re eating. Buyer still beware.
But don't throw in the towel...
If you’ve read all three installments of this series and are starting to feel like you might as well give up on trying to eat better, don’t lose hope. Next week we’ll provide you with practical advice on how to navigate this dysfunctional food landscape.
In the meantime, know that when you choose Step One Foods, you’re choosing products that are composed of the finest whole food ingredients that yield far more than nice-looking Nutrition Panels. At Step One Foods we're not about window dressing - because we understand that your health is happening at the cellular level, not at thirty thousand feet.