"The best advice is to avoid foods with health claims on the label, or better yet avoid foods with labels in the first place."
Mark Hyman, Author
Food labels (sometimes also referred to as nutrition facts labels) can be defined as panels on the packaging of food containing information about the nutritional value of the food item.
There is a variety of different food labels out there and there had been extensive discussions in the past about whether food labels are beneficial or not. In this article, the pros and cons of food labels are examined.
One major advantage of food labels is that they provide useful information regarding the ingredients of the respective food item. Thus, if people look at those labels, they can figure out how much fat, sugar and other things are in those foods. This high-level information may give people a better impression on how healthy a product might be and whether they want to consume it or not.
Especially when it comes to certain diets, a look at food labels might be quite helpful in order to detect unwanted ingredients. Therefore, food labels may be a valid tool to get an overview regarding what to expect from a certain food item in terms of nutrients and calories.
Food labels will not only show you the composition of your food, it will often also indicate which fraction of your daily calory intake will be covered by a certain portion of the respective food item. By getting this information, you might be better able to plan your diet in order to avoid excessive calory intake.
Many people do not actually know how much calories certain foods contain. By indicating this on food labels, people might become more aware regarding their calory intake and may adjust their consumption behavior in order to reduce it.
In general, people might question their diet much more if they can see on the food labels whether their diet plan can be considered to be healthy or not. Many people might be unaware regarding how much sugar and fat they actually eat every day.
Through food labels, it will be more obvious that some foods will be much healthier compared to others. This may give people an incentive to switch to a healthier food consumption behavior.
Food labels may also motivate people to switch to a healthier diet in the long run. We as humans are subconsciously influenced by many different things in our daily life without even recognizing it.
This is also true when it comes to food labels. You might not actually notice it, but certain food labels which indicate the healthiness of a product will either support or prevent you from buying this product, at least to a certain extent.
Thus, people may be motivated in a subconscious manner to eat healthier through the use of food labels.
Another benefit of food labels is that they often indicate the portion size of the respective food item. For instance, it might be hard for you to decide how much you should consume of the respective product.
Especially for rather unhealthy food items like chocolate or crisps, chances are that you would eat far too much without the indication of portion sizes.
Thus, the indication of portion sizes through food labels might be a great way to stop you from consuming too much unhealthy stuff.
People who suffer from certain diseases might also rely on food labels in order to determine whether they are allowed to eat certain foods or not. Due to organ damages or other health issues, people may suffer from serious health conditions if they eat certain food items.
By looking at the food label, those people will be better able to determine whether they can eat this kind of food without problems or not. Thus, food labels may even be able to save lives under some circumstances.
Especially for people suffering from food allergies, food labels are a great way to protect those people. Allergy sufferers can just take a look at the ingredients and know whether the respective food item may cause problems for them or not. By doing so, people who suffer from allergies can easily avoid foods that might harm their health.
Food labels can also help to mitigate main public health issues like diabetes or obesity. People will be more aware of what they are eating and could reduce their calory intake.
Even though many people might still ignore the information on food labels, a certain fraction of people might care.
Thus, the number of people suffering from obesity and from the resulting adverse health effects could be lowered to a certain extent.
Through food labels, it may also be possible to change the mind of many people regarding their diet. If people get more aware of what they are actually eating and how it might impact their health, people may be more eager to adjust their consumption behavior and to change their diet in a healthier manner. Thus, food labels may contribute to an increase of the overall health levels of whole countries.
Food labels may not only be helpful to change your own consumption behavior, they might also lead you to buy healthier food for your children. It is already known that the diet greatly determines whether a child will grow in a healthy manner or not. Thus, food labels can not only increase your own health, but may also be helpful when it comes to decisions which foods you want to use for your kids.
If people get more aware of how certain food items might influence their health, people might be less eager to buy unhealthy foods. Thus, producers of those unhealthy food items might refrain from producing those foods anymore if the demand for those foods decreases. Thus, unhealthy food items may vanish from our grocery stores over the long run through the use of food labels.
Since health problems are a major source of government spending, the use of food labels can also make sense from an economic perspective. For instance, if people become more aware of the health effects of certain food products, they are less likely to buy unhealthy food. In turn, their risk of suffering from health issues like overweight decreases.
This also implies that the government expenses and treatment costs related to health issues will decrease, which may give governments around the world the opportunity to spend this money on other important projects instead.
Although food labels have some important advantages, there are also some problems related to them. For instance, food labels might mislead people and may influence their decisions in a rather suboptimal manner. Many producers claim that their products are “low-fat”, “low-carb” or other declarations that seem to be positive on the first glance.
However, even though products may be good in one certain aspect, they may be quite harmful in others. For example, products that are low-carb may contain excessive sugar instead. Thus, even though you might be able to avoid carbs, you might still consume plenty of sugar which might be even worse for your health.
Another issue with food labels is that the general public might not be able to understand them properly. It might be quite hard for the average person to determine whether a certain amount of sugar, calories or carbs is good or bad for his or her health.
Thus, if the declaration and the information on the food label is pretty basic, chances are that consumers may not be able to get too much helpful advice and that they might still consume food in a rather unhealthy manner.
Even though food labels give consumers an overview of some important numbers and ingredients, this information is still not sufficient to determine whether a certain kind of diet may be healthy or not.
The numbers on food labels are just too high-level and not detailed enough. Thus, people may draw false conclusions from those numbers and their health levels might even get worse due to their reliance on the information on food labels.
Moreover, the optimal calory intake of a person heavily depends on his or her individual circumstances. For instance, imagine a person working in an office. This person will sit in front of his computer all day long. Chances are that this person will not burn too many calories during his day. Now, imagine another person working in construction.
This person will carry around heavy things on a regular basis. Thus, this person will burn plenty of calories. Therefore, the average calory intake recommendation will only be valid for an average person. Depending on the physical work you are doing, you might need much more or even less compared to the recommendation on the food label.
Thus, even though food labels can give you some indication on how much you should eat, it will not be suitable to take individual circumstances into account at all.
On some food labels, there is also just an indication of how much fat is contained in a product but there is no differentiation between good and bad fats. Even though all kinds of fats contain a similar amount of calories, there are still huge differences regarding their health effects. For instance, while saturated fats are rather harmful to human health, unsaturated fatty acids can be quite healthy.
Thus, consumers should not solely rely on food labels to determine which products are good or bad for their health. Instead, they have to inform themselves to get further information in order to be able to adjust their consumption behavior in a healthy manner.
In some cases, producers of certain kinds of foods even try to mask unhealthy ingredients. For instance, this could mean that there are huge labels on products which say something like “50% less sugar”. However, when you look at the nutrition values which are stated in a quite small font size, you will often see that the sugar has been replaced with sweeteners which are often even more harmful to human health.
Some producers also work with quite deceptive claims. For example, this could mean that producers claim certain health benefits of a product which may be quite questionable from an objective standpoint.
A good example for this is the shampoo industry. Some shampoo companies claim that their shampoo might help to prevent hair loss while this has never been proved by objective studies.
Thus, you should stay awake and sceptic when it comes to promises on food labels which may sound suspicious or simply too good to be true.
Since many consumers often do not question what producers promise on food labels, they are easy to fool. Producers know that and do everything they can to exploit consumer trust and to maximize their profits. Thus, questionable claims on food labels are quite common and you should always use your mind to determine flawed arguments instead of just believing what is written on food labels.
People may also get quite confused when using food labels in order to determine whether they should by a certain product or not. Some people, especially if they are insecure, may just rely on the promises of producers and may therefore buy certain products that are actually rather harmful than beneficial for their health. Thus, people may even buy the unhealthy products due to their reliance on food labels.
Some people might also rely too much on food labels and may become too sceptic about their nutrition. After all, eating should also be enjoyable and should not be solely based on numbers. Thus, there might also be a danger that some people may exaggerate their reliance on the declarations and numbers of food labels.
In order to be able to make profound buying decisions, consumers would need much more information. Food labels alone do not take into account many individual factors and they can only give consumers a rough overview, but will never be sufficient to replace a profound nutrition education.
Thus, it might be useful if producers provided additional information on their websites regarding the proven health benefits of their products so that consumers would be better able to evaluate the true health benefits of products.
Another downside of food labels is that they take away some accountability and also critical thinking from the end consumer. People may rely on those food labels too much without questioning anything that is written on them. However, we as humans should stay critical and awake in order to expose flaws and false promises.
Food Label Pros
Information regarding ingredients
Overview of nutrition values
People may adjust food consumption
Less health issues related to obesity
Possible increase in overall health levels
Crucial for allergy sufferers
Portion sizes are determined
Fraction of unhealthy products may decrease
Better diet for children
Food Label Cons
Nutrition facts labels may be misleading
Only basic information on food labels
Insufficient regarding individual lives
Masking of unhealthy products
Exploitation of consumer trust
Takes away accountability from people
People may buy wrong products
Bad conscience for people
There are many benefits regarding the use of food labels. However, food labels also imply serious problems. Thus, people should not solely rely on food labels when it comes to buying decisions.
Instead, they should inform themselves and get additional information from many different sources in order to improve their knowledge on healthy diets and which products may be beneficial for them and which may not.
About the author
My name is Andreas and my mission is to educate people of all ages about our environmental problems and how everyone can make a contribution to mitigate these issues.
As I went to university and got my Master's degree in Economics, I did plenty of research in the field of Development Economics.
After finishing university, I traveled around the world. From this time on, I wanted to make a contribution to ensure a livable future for the next generations in every part of our beautiful planet.
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