When you walk into a supermarket, you’re confronted by innumerable choices. Bags of candy, fresh produce, pastries and beverages line each aisle of the store. Each of these products might be very different from each other, but if they have one thing in common, it would be that there isn’t any difference in how they’re displayed. Broccoli that is really healthy for you won’t be presented any different from sugary cereals that only damage your health. In fact, the cereal might be displayed more prominently because it’s backed by bigger companies. Nutrition experts say this is where the root of bad food choices lies.
How Does Labeling Affect Our Food Choices?
Most government-backed food agencies argue that the solution to the obesity epidemic lies in educating people about not making unhealthy food choices, not taking away their right to make a choice. While it’s true that people need to become more aware of the food they’re eating, our current food environment is not conducive to that. Most of us know facts about nutrition but aren’t able to use that information in real life. For example, we know trans fats are bad, but is it dangerous even in trace amounts or only above a certain quantity? While foods do come with nutrition labels at the back, most of the information provided wouldn’t make sense to a layman. The complications around reading nutritional values of foods dissuades many people from paying attention to them.
What Are Traffic Light Labels?
Experts say that if labeling continues the same way, our food choices are only going to get worse.The traffic light labeling system is a simplified version of providing nutritional values. Instead of providing just a table of nutritional content, it actually lets you know if a food is healthy to eat. Like a traffic light, nutritional components are color-coded into three main groups: red for above the recommended limit, orange for safe in moderation and green for healthy. Proponents of this system claim that color-coding nutrients will help consumers make more informed choices about the food they consume. One study conducted by Yale found that consumers also prefer this form of food labeling over traditional nutrition tables. So can we expect all of our foods to be labelled this way soon? Probably not. Companies argue that labeling foods this way could negatively affect their sales. Since these are huge, powerful corporations, it will take a while before regulations like this can come into place.
Criticisms Of Traffic Light Labels
Not everyone believes that traffic light labels will be very effective. One of the most common arguments put forth is that nutrition isn’t so straightforward. A red label automatically dissuades a consumer from buying that product, but it might not be as unhealthy as they think it is. Greek yogurt, for example, will have a red label against fat because it is high in fat. However, the fat in greek yogurt is the good kind and it also contains important nutrients like calcium and protein. There is also a lot of ambiguity over certain nutrients and their effects on our health. Saturated fats, for example, are slowly beginning to be recognized as a crucial component of healthy cells. But will the new labeling system reflect this?
Detractors also say that an objective presentation of facts such as the nutrition table is also a lot safer than the traffic light system. By presenting the facts alone, it helps consumers decide for themselves if the food they’re eating adheres to their nutritional requirements. But again, the problem with this argument is that most consumers simply do not know enough about nutritional components to make informed decisions for themselves.
The traffic light system is far from perfect. However, if there’s one thing that’s certain, it’s that a major change needs to come about in our current food environment. If our food patterns continue this way, we’re going to see even higher numbers of people living with obesity, diabetes and other health conditions.