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Nutrition Labeling Meaning and Importance

Nutrition is the diet of a human being; his intake of food and the necessary mineral and nutrients that come with it. The word nutrition is derived from nutrients, which are the essential ingredients that a human body needs to survive and be healthy. The knowledge of nutrition is extremely important for a person because he/she can ensure his/her health or illness – a balanced diet, which is the balanced intake of these nutrients and minerals. An imbalance can cause the increment of certain things in the human body and the lack of other essentials; thus, striking a balance is extremely important.

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In order to make sure that the intake is accurate, one needs to be knowledgeable about the types of nutrients, their uses, the right amount, in what food items these nutrients are found, so on and so forth. This can either be done by research, by consulting a dietician, etc., but such people can only tell the person what a certain vegetable or fruit contains; not what these packaged foods contain because there are so many artificial flavors added that the actual nutrient goes missing without the person even realizing. Thus, one can only know of the uses of certain nutrients and not what every single packaged food or other foods like fast food, etc. contains. This leads us to the core of our topic; which is nutrition labeling.

Nutrition labeling refers to the food labels that are printed on the packaging of the food items; even in other places like the container of the sandwich at McDonald’s, or the package of the French fries. These labels are usually used as an information table for the consumers so that they know what they are eating. The producers and suppliers usually print this so that the customers cannot blame the suppliers later for any nutrient that the customer was unaware of and ate; also because they want to increase their credibility and want to show to the consumers that they want to have a relationship of trust in which they tell the consumers whatever that they are putting into their products. It might not seem like a big deal, but the consumers really get attracted by such things because they feel that they are not being fooled and they know exactly what the suppliers are doing to them and at least not manipulating them in any way. This is also a marketing tactic by the companies because when they are actually putting in something good and healthy for the customers, they make it evident on the packaging so that the customers know about the value that the company is providing to them. Also, at times these companies tend to lie to the customers in order to gain sales; the most common and ordinary ones are related to fat and calories – some companies print zero calories and zero fat when it is evident that there cannot be zero calories in anything. Some consumers fall for it and buy the product while some do not and in fact, lose their trust in the product and refuse to buy it in the future causing a fall in sales.

These nutrition facts table usually has fat, sodium, proteins, carbohydrates, energy, calories, sugar; along with measurements per serving or per 100 grams. Cholesterol is another very important labeling – this is because of the increasing rate of heart/cardiac patients in the world due to obesity and basically a junk/fast food and oily/greasy food. A mention of the cholesterol in the food item is extremely important so that ill people can make choices wisely. These labelings are not just for health-conscious people or those who are curious by nature, it is extremely essential for people with varying kinds of diseases and those who want to make sure that their intake is in alignment with their cure and does not worsen the situation. For example, diabetic patients should check the sugar level.

From solely the customer point of view and their benefit, food labels are extremely essential. Their basic purpose is to let the consumers make healthy choices in life when it comes to food. There are proper and official regulations and bodies that are keeping track of nutrition policies that are in place. In 1990, the USDA and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) formulated such policies and made them available to the customers so that they would have full information regarding the nutritional facts and figures and thus, lead them to make wise decisions that suit their body and health state (FDA, 2009). With changing times and the increasing intellect of consumers and their smart purchasing habits, consumers now demand these rights that make them fully aware of what is being used in the food that they are consuming. Calories are the biggest issue that has been brought up so far – some smart marketers and sellers have now transformed the terminology into ‘energy’. Both mean the same but energy sounds less repulsive; thus, weight-conscious people tend to forget their guilty conscience and buy these products (Food Labelling Regulations, 1996).

In a world surrounded by fast-food restaurants, convenient food markets, and fine dining establishments it’s no wonder 67% of Americans over the age of 20 years old are overweight (cdc.gov). Interestingly, most everything you purchase now from soda pop and “Boca Burgers” to “McDonald’s chicken Mc Nuggets” has a nutrition label placed somewhere on the packaging to inform the consumer of the nutritional values that are contained in a specific item. In reality, it doesn’t seem to modify the choices we make when consuming food as revealed with evidence of continued increases in unhealthy weights and declining health of Americans. However, when later allegations are put against these brands for causing obesity in the United States of America and other places, these companies can defend themselves by claiming that we did inform the consumers, now it is up to them to consume it or not (Saltos & Davis, 1994).

Now that we have spoken about the importance of nutrition labels and how the producers and suppliers go about it, by either manipulating the consumers through marketing tactics or actual convincing factors; we need to find a way to tackle all these exploitations of the consumer problems (Nestle, 2002). I have a solution in mind to this problem and how it will make life easier for the consumers. Mostly, consumers while shopping do not have much time to go over things written in the corner of the box in a very tiny, hardly readable font. There should be something that is an easy indication and not time-consuming at all. Thus, what I have in mind is exactly what counters this problem. The color-coded labels; with a code for each color – for example, red indicated alert. Nutrition labels need to become more persuasive on what actually are the good ingredients and not so good ingredients for the consumer. To achieve this I would recommend a change from the generic nutrition label to a color-coded system by placing all the healthy-for-you ingredients in green while the harmful-to-your-health would be coded in red (alert!). In addition, ingredients listed underneath the nutrition label should be listed as exactly what it is from worst to first and not by what the product is mostly made of. This means that the harmful things should be mentioned in red and the good things can be mentioned in green – the other things in the middle need not be mentioned and talked about in detail. The colors will be bright and not boring, unlike the font, thus, will be noticeable and much easier to read.

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Lastly, a small piece of paper and/or measuring cup (per serving size) should be required to be inserted into the box of each manufactured product to inform and educate consumers on what exactly is a “serving size” and how to better manage it “calorie” intake. Most of these products mention a very low amount of calories that makes the consumer happy, but very tactfully, they add the word “per serving”. This confuses the consumers – they may very well be fooling the consumers. A low amount of calories in a very small amount of serving is worse than a low amount of calories in a higher amount of serving. Therefore, to avoid this confusion, a serving cup is made according to the ‘serving size’ the product is defining.

Let’s take an example; such things are extremely important in the lives of a sportsman or an athlete because they need to keep their diet in focus to be healthy – what they are eating really matters to them and their performance. If they are not healthy, their performance is affected. For them, their health and performance are what matters the most and if they do not have just the right diet which consists of sufficient intake of the food varieties provided by ‘information literature’ that will be inside the box of packaged food will be very useful for them, their health, as well as their performance both, are at stake.

Apart from this and the color code, the consumers still need to know what lays within the box, thus, inside the box, a paper with the nutrients and their details, etc. must be mentioned, because the color code is not enough all the time. The paper, which actually is the ‘information literature’, can mention the nutrients, their usage and the amount of it present in the food item. This clearly outlines what they need to include in their diet to ensure that they remain healthy and fit. It is informal in nature and because of this, any layman would be able to understand it. It combines science with exercise so conveniently that the reader would hardly notice that what he is reading is hard-core science. Also, after every point, a table is given which basically explains the diet plan very concisely. The simple conveniences of the color-coding system, measuring cup and paper, and listed ingredients will offer the consumer the appropriate materials to make successful healthy choices. This will also increase their trust in the product and their measurements and labeling of the nutrients.

References

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2009. Web.

FDA, (2009), How to Understand and Use the Nutrition Facts Label. Web.

Food Labelling Regulations 1996, Schedule 7 – Nutrition Labelling, The Stationery Office, 1996. Web.

Nestle, M. (2002); Food Politics; University of California Press; ISBN 0520240677.

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Saltos E, Davis C, (1994); “Using Food Labels To Follow the Dietary Guidelines for Americans: A Reference”; United States Department of Agriculture, Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion.

Understanding the New Nutrition Facts Label. 2009. Web.

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