What Are Food Labels You Can Trust? Sorting Helpful Claims from Ridiculous Ones on Nutrition Facts Panels & Packages

By Rachael Moeller Gorman, "The Whole-Grain, Reduced-Fat, Zero-Calorie, High-Fiber, Lightly Sweetened TRUTH About Food Labels," September/October 2013

You'll never read a food label or nutrition facts label the same way after you learn what food labels really mean

Cutting Through the Clutter

Roberto muses on her fears for the future of packaging. “As a society, we’re becoming more and more conscious of obesity and poor diet, and what I’m worried about is that companies are going to capitalize on that by doing more marketing around health,” she says. “The problem is, they won’t be marketing healthy food, necessarily. They’ll be touting the health attributes of unhealthy products.”

Food companies frame their product with its package. They control how we think about the food inside, whether we expect it to be healthy or not, how tasty we think it will be, how much we eat in a sitting, and even how hungry it will make us. And packages are very alluring.

Perhaps, then, we are better off eating things that don’t need labels. If you do eat labeled food (and let’s be honest, we all do), buyer beware: the marketed “better-for-you” version isn’t always healthier. In fact, indulging (moderately) in the “regular” version might just be the best choice.

Back at the supermarket, I push my cart away from the center of the store toward the outskirts, where the whole foods are. It may be unrealistic to think of a world where food doesn’t exist in packages, but there are places with fewer packages: community co-ops, farmers’ markets. The produce section. I pick up some green apples and put them in my own bag. I want to eat food I can label myself.

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