Thursday, July 7, 2011

Redesigning the nutrition label

Recently I submitted an entry to the redesign the nutrition label contest.  The objective is to make a nutrition label that is actually useful and informative to people - either using the existing label as a layout base or re-creating your own completely.  Never mind my super design skills from the Paint application - it's the thought that counts.

The nutrition label is easily glossed over by many, however, if done properly it could have a real impact on health and obesity in America.  People don't know what they're putting in their bodies.  They don't know how much is a reasonable amount, and they don't know where their food comes from.  And that's a big problem.  As Michael Pollan said in his book In Defense of Food, it's ironic that America is the country the most obsessed with health and nutrition and vitamins as we are the most obese.  I'm not a calorie counter (though I understand the calorie count has a role to play in the nutrition label) and I'm definitely not concerned about the amount of butter in my diet (how I love butter).  But that doesn't mean I'm not thinking about what I'm putting in my body.  I love food and I prefer to eat real food, that has names I understand, varied, fat and all, in moderation.  There's no science behind my diet but I'm a healthy normal sized person.

When it comes to packaged foods I'm skeptical.  Unfortunately it's come to a point where I don't trust my food packaging: I don't trust the health claims and I don't trust that the nutrition label is really helping me or my family, who don't always pay attention to it as much, make better decisions for our health. I want to make a nutrition label that has accessible information for people who can't make sense of the numbers and which also enlightens us on hot topics in food production.

Knowledge is power. If we systematically print more information (via the nutrition label, front of package labeling, etc.) in a way that's meant to be understood, it will manifest in consumers' decisions and could change the demands in the food industry. Nutrition labels currently muddle controversial information that could affect product sales (i.e. where did your food come from?  Is this an unhealthy amount of salt/fat?  Is it genetically modified?). You have a right to know the details about what goes into your body. It's your body.  Below is a breakdown of changes I made to the nutrition label.  I included some great ideas I saw out on the inter-web coupled with a few of my own:

  • High/med/low color coded traffic circles next to the Calories/Fat/Salt/Sugars visually show consumers, who don't necessarily understand the numbers, how much of a good or bad thing is in their food. (Taken from the UK FOP labeling).
  • Standardized serving size (100g) – so consumers can compare different foods to each other more easily.
  • % of whole grains is about shattering the marketing ploys to convince consumers that their food is better for them than it actually is. What percentage of grains are whole grains?
  • What percentage of vitamins and minerals are natural and what percentage is fortified? Getting your vitamins and minerals through natural foods (i.e. raisins in your cereal, fruit or vegetables baked into your bread...) will absorb differently in your body and likely have greater health benefits than a powder added to your cereal mix. While consumers have the right to choose any product they please, I think it is important they become aware of this distinction.
  • Allergy information prominently displayed.
  • Hot topic check-boxes at the bottom make consumers aware of what their food is and isn't, decreasing confusion. They might have a stronger opinion about many of these boxes if they knew each and every time what they were consuming.
  • Easier to understand ingredient list that I poached from a scientist in an article I read. (A great idea is a great idea...). It shows consumers in words they understand what they're eating, and the percentage by weight in the food (a vast improvement). It also divides the ingredients into major ingredients and minor ingredients.
Food is and always will be an important conscious part of my life. I hope that this project redesigning the nutrition label will widen the discourse on what consumers need to know to make informed healthy choices. As we can see with the growing organic market consumers do care about what they're putting in their bodies. We need to embrace the changing demand and give consumers what they want: accurate information they can easily understand.