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Surprising Science

Color-Coded Nutrition Facts May Confuse Rather Than Inform Consumers

Nutrition Facts on food packages require some study in order to understand what it all means. The UK seeks to implement a new system, but it may make a diet soda look healthier than a basket of strawberries.

The obesity epidemic is well-known and countries are trying to do what they can to fight it. Peter Ubel of Forbes highlights a UK food labeling system that hopes to teach consumers to make healthier choices through color-coded labels. But some companies may be able to use this easy system to only further confuse and distract consumers from the real facts.

Nutrition labels require you to understand how much sugar is ok, the difference between saturated and monosaturated fats, and pay attention to serving size. Grocery shopping could easily become and all-day event if you stopped to read, compare, and research every item. Thankfully, British food companies are adopting what Ubel calls a kind of “stoplight system” for nutrition facts—an at-a-glance method of grouping the important nutrition bullet points and color-coding them. Red, yellow, and green labels will color certain nutrition categories to let buyers know what values are considered good, bad, or so-so.

The idea is if you buy a food with all or mostly green labels next to each category, you’ve made a healthy choice. However, there’s a flaw in this quick and easy system. Ubel asks people to consider Coca Cola, for instance, which will be adopting the voluntary labels. Diet Coke and Coca Cola Zero products display all-green labels. These products are low in fat, sodium, and saturated fat, making it “[look] healthier than kale juice!” according to Ubel.

To him, the UK stoplight system is a step in the right direction to level the playing field for the health conscious and uninformed. But the truth is there’s more nuance to nutrition than whether a product has lots of sugar or fat. In fact, he points to a study published in the Annals of Internal Medicinethat shows a diet low in carbohydrates is far more effective than one that’s low in fat. After all, carbohydrates are broken down into sugar.

This system may not be perfect, but hardly anything is the first time around. The hope is the system will continue to evolve, and become more refined to meet consumer’s informational and nutritional needs.

Read more at Forbes

Photo Credit: Julia Lamphear/Flickr


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