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Being Upfront About Nutrition

Front-of-package nutrition labels make foods healthier.

Food labels

Savvy grocery shoppers have long known that if you want to suss out the true nutritional value of cereal, bread or other packaged food, you must look past the “all-natural,” “gluten-free” and other marketing lingo plastered on the front and peek at the back of the package for the real nutrition facts. But a labeling initiative may give us a better sense of how nutritious an item is from the get-go and even make it easier to find healthy items on store shelves.

In a Journal of Marketing study, researchers analyzed 16 years of data covering nearly 22,000 products that adopted the “front-of-packaging” (FOP) label. With this approach, important nutrition facts such as calorie and sugar numbers appear on the front of the package. The study found that when a brand adopts FOP label placement, nutritional content improves, not only for that food but also for competing products. A review of the study stated, “Across all of the food categories in which at least some products adopted the FOP labels, there was a 12.5% reduction in calories; 12.97% reduction in saturated fat; 12.62% reduction in sugar; and 3.74% reduction in sodium.” Basically, when some brands are more upfront about the nutritional content of their products, other brands in a similar food category feel the need to fall in line and upgrade their products, too.

FOP labels can benefit consumers by helping them look past the marketing jargon on the front and get a quick picture of a product’s nutritional value, thus prompting more health-conscious decisions. Still, placing nutrition labels upfront works best if people understand what they are reading (e.g., they know what is considered high for sodium or saturated fat).

See also: The New Label Lingo?

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Matthew Kadey, MS, RD

Matthew Kadey, MS, RD, is a James Beard Award–winning food journalist, dietitian and author of the cookbook Rocket Fuel: Power-Packed Food for Sport + Adventure (VeloPress 2016). He has written for dozens of magazines, including Runner’s World, Men’s Health, Shape, Men’s Fitness and Muscle and Fitness.

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