Friday, January 28, 2011

Coming soon to a grocery near you

Maybe you saw a news story this week that the food industry is going to change its nutritional labeling soon.  On the front of many packages will be a chart showing key ingredients that health-conscious consumers might want to avoid or limit.

The industry announcement credited Michelle Obama with inspiring their new plan, saying, "we would not be here today if she had not defined the common objective."

However, Michelle herself isn't all that thrilled.  Seems that the food guys had been in discussion with the FDA for several months about new government guidelines, but pulled out of the talks because the FDA wants stricter rules than the food guys want.  This plan is apparently an attempt by Big Food to head them off at the pass; if they go ahead with their own version it will be harder for the government to impose a new and different set of rules.

The sticking point between the food guys and the government, apparently, is whether food labels can tout "healthy" ingredients such as vitamins.  What's wrong with that?  Well, the problem is that we consumers are basically ignorant about nutrition and terribly susceptible to advertising, even if it's misleading (circling back to the ignorance part).  We are willing, even eager to be persuaded that potato chips with Vitamin A are really good for us!  And we should finish the whole bag because hey, they have Vitamin A!!  (So the food guys added .001 cents worth of Vitamin A, which doesn't do much for either you or the potato chips -- big deal.)  Similarly, ice cream is going to be really "healthy" because it contains calcium, and that "fact" is no doubt going to be prominently written on many packages.

Wait, I'm not that dumb, you say.  Oh no?  Look at all the people who buy "healthy fat-free" cookies with more calories than regular ones.  Or those who buy "healthy" breakfast cereals with 26 grams of sugar per serving.  I hope you're not among them, but I know I have cringed now and then to read the label on something I bought in haste and have been eating happily ever since.

I think the chart is a good idea, although I have a quarrel with the small type that says "25% DV."

Do you know what DV means?  And does a healthy food have more or less of the DV?

Intuitively, I tend to think that if Food A has 25% of the DV and Food B has 35%, Food B is the healthier one.  But that's wrong -- this label means eating a serving of this stuff will constitute one quarter of the total fat you should eat in the day.  So Food A is healthier.

And DV means daily value, which took me a while to figure out.

I have been reading a lot about the food industry recently and do not think much of their business ethics or their attitude toward nutrition.  The people who brought you Froot Loops do not get up every morning trying to make your diet healthier.  So I'm unhappy about this latest plan, much as I have to grudgingly admire the chutzpah of blaming it all on Michelle.

No comments:

Post a Comment