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Beyond the Food Label

Nutrient Claims on Packaging Tell Little About the Nutritional Value of the Food 

Let’s face it, grocery shopping can be exhausting. With so many foods to choose from and messages to read, it can be tough to decide what’s actually healthy. And the truth is, so much of what you read on packaging is merely marketing and has little to do with how healthy a product is. A 2017 study published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics investigated just how well the messages on packaging relate to the nutritional value of the food. 

Researchers from University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill examined grocery shopping data from more than 40,000 U.S. households totaling over 80 million food and beverage purchases. They specifically looked at the types of nutrient claims on the packaging, finding that many labels focused on negative nutrients—that is, the label touted that the product was low in a nutrient that is generally harmful, such as sugar, salt and saturated fat. Low-fat claims were most common, followed by low-calorie, low-sugar and low-sodium claims. 

While products with low-content claims were indeed low in these nutrients, they weren’t necessarily healthier or more nutrient-dense than products that had no claims. Overall, researchers feel these “low in” claims may actually mislead consumers about the overall nutritional quality of the food. 

Just because something is low in calories, sugar, salt or fat doesn’t necessarily mean it’s healthy. At Dole we prefer to focus on what’s in the food we eat rather than what’s not in the food. Fruits and vegetables are indeed low in most negative nutrients, but more importantly they are packed with the nutrients we need for health such as vitamins, minerals, and plant phytochemicals. Next time you shop, think about what you’ll get from the food instead of what you won’t get and you’re sure to improve the quality of your meals.

Published May 1, 2017

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