Food Labels and Health
Food labels have changed the way that consumers understand health. By reading the labels on food packaging, consumers can identify all ingredients found in a product, if a food product contains an allergen, if a food product is associated with health claims, and the basic macronutrient breakdown of the product. This transparency of food products is essential for individuals with dietary restrictions, allergies, that follow specific dietary patterns, or someone who just wants to better understand what they are eating.
Although food labels have been around for over 50 years, there is still confusion among many as to how to most appropriately use the information provided on the package to make healthy food choices. To help individuals make educated decisions about their food purchases, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) created an educational tool called MyPlate. This tool and associated website www.choosemyplate.gov, provides recommendations and suggestions for individuals to create and maintain a balanced diet, in addition to guides on how to read a food label.
Apps to Improve your Understanding
In addition to MyPlate, there are abundant resources to help individuals understand dietary choices and take control of their health through monitored food purchasing. Some of the most prevalent resources are smartphone apps. For example, there are several apps such as ipiit, The Food Ambassador that can help individuals quickly go through food labels and ensure that the product does not contain a certain allergen or is in line with a particular diet. Another app, Fooducate, can scan food labels and upload it to a calorie counter that users can monitor. Other apps offer databases that also include fast food restaurants, canned/boxed food, and fresh food along with exercise tracking, such as the app MyFitnessPal, created by Under Armour. Each of these apps has its own unique features and limitations, yet can be successful tools to help people begin to understand what food labels mean for them.
While food labels have a long history and there are even more changes coming to labels soon, we encourage you to explore all parts of a label so that you can learn how to distinguish claims on labels, identify macronutrient amounts, and ultimately improve your health through better understanding of food.
This article is the final post of a 5-part series on factual food labels on The University of Texas’ Nutrition Department’s Blog.