How to navigate nutrition labels

Here’s a “shocker” for you: A new study revealed that nutrition information labels in the US are more confusing than they are helpful.

Researchers compared four different labeling systems and—surprise, surprise. They discovered that the label most commonly used on products in the US (and Canada) was actually the least user-friendly.

They determined the biggest problem with the US label is that it takes too much time to understand.

“Food shoppers typically have a limited amount of time to make each food choice, and they find the Nutrition Facts labels to be confusing and difficult to use,” commented the lead author of the study. “One product may be low in fat, but high in sugar, while another product may be just the opposite.

This points out my biggest problem with the label—it puts fat at the very top. Which inherently sends the message that fat is the most important thing to watch out for. When, as you know, fat isn’t the enemy. Sugar is. Yet sugar is way down on the label, as a subcategory of “Carbohydrates.”

So if I had to give you just one piece of advice about reading labels, I’d say do not pass go, do not collect $200, zero in on the “Sugars.” And make sure that amount is as close to zero as possible.

Better yet? Stick with foods from your local farmers market—or at the very least the perimeter of your supermarket. The healthiest ones don’t even have labels.


The effects of nutrition labeling on consumer food choice: a psychological experiment and computational model.” Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 2014; 1331 (1): 174