November 22, 2017
Do we as consumers really know what is in the food we eat? We have likely considered this question in our pursuit of achieving a healthy lifestyle. With the continuous effort made by the food industry, it is difficult to keep up with the ever-changing criteria of good health. From understanding the health impacts and views of fats and sugar, to the variety of population fad diets, the food industry is exhausting their options and is in turmoil about what consumers want and what they consider healthy. I want to address the issue of how nutrition claims are used as advertising schemes and are misleading to the public. Without proper knowledge of these nutrition claims, I believe they can lead to dire health complications.
The Label Cliché:
As a method of increasing sales, the food industry uses nutrition claims as a source of advertising and these claims are typically located at the front of a food label to catch the consumer’s eye. These claims follow current food trends that are appealing to the public as they follow diet criteria and are appealing to weight loss trends. Many claims are created as a means to improve health but they can be misleading. With a lack of knowledge and understanding, these nutrition claims can influence people in making an unhealthy decision, which will increase their risk of health complications. As a consumer, is it very important not to be persuaded by nutrition claims and to understand the nutritional value of your food.
The truth behind the claim:
Canada has a variety of regulations regarding the specifications of food and nutrition labelling and takes pride in providing this information to help improve the health of Canadians. Specifically, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency has developed regulation around nutrition labelling, “which is to provide a system of information about the nutrient content of food in a standardized format, which allows for comparison among foods at the point of purchase”. Even with these specific regulations, nutrition claims are still causing concern and determining what is healthy while referring to a nutrition facts table can be difficult to comprehend. For example, being educated in this field of nutrition, I find the task of comparing nutrition labels and distinguishing between one product to the next easy. However, the task of comparing the nutrition value of two different products would be a difficult and daunting task for someone like my grandmother. For example, consider the claims versus facts as presented below:
Low Fat Nutrition Claim: According to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, in order for a food to hold the nutrition claim of low fat, a product must contain less than 3 grams of fat per serving or per 100g of a package.
Truth: From a nutrition perspective, what is misleading regarding this claim is that the foods claiming to have low fat typically have higher calories as the fat is replaced by added sugars. Companies still want consumers to enjoy the taste of their product, therefore adding sugar is essential to a marketing scheme as it keeps consumers interested in products.
No Added Sugar Nutrition Claim: According to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, in order for a food to hold the nutrition claim of no added sugar it must not contain any sugar, or ingredients that have sugar.
Truth: This claim is misleading because many foods have naturally occurring sugars, such as fructose (found in fruit), and lactose (found in milk). In addition, many foods carrying this no added sugar claim may have increased amounts of calories due to replacing the sugars with fat.
As a Newfoundlander, you may ask, “why do these claims impact me?” As of 2016, the Canadian Diabetes Association reported that Newfoundland and Labrador has the highest rates of diabetes within the country. Food label claims become even more important to susceptible populations. Through experience, I am aware that people who are diagnosed with diabetes become very health conscious and are at a higher risk for believing false marketing claims such as “no added sugar” and “low-fat”. These claims can heavily impact blood sugar levels within a diabetic. Without being aware of the truth behind these claims, the diabetic population is at risk of overconsumption of sugar leading to an increase in their risk of other health conditions, such as kidney failure or heart disease.
So now what?:
Even though nutrition labelling is accessible and available on all packaged products in the supermarket, they are still confusing and may not be useful to the public. Since these nutrition claims are misleading, it is important to develop tighter regulations and policies around specific nutrition claims. For example, nutrition claims regarding low fat should include the statement “may contain added sugar”, and nutrition claims regarding no added sugar should include the statement “contains naturally occurring sugars”. With this added knowledge, perhaps then consumers would have the tools they require to make more informed decisions regarding their food. After all, we are what we eat.