Does reading nutrition facts actually help you make healthier decisions? A group of researchers from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, Washington confirms that the answer is yes.
"There is a definite link between reading the labels and eating less fat," explains Marian Neuhouser, one of the authors of a recently published study in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association.
To reach this conclusion, scientists interviewed 1,450 adults about their eating habits and their behavior towards the products on supermarket shelves. From this group, 80% said they read product nutrition facts, and the "addicts" who read about fat and calories are, to no great surprise, women less than 35 years old.
You've been there before. You come to a stop, take a product off the shelf, and the next thing you know you're turning it around to read the nutrition facts. Just this subtle gesture could change the amount of calories you consume. "A lot of times people choose products, for example granola bars, because of the amount of calories they have," underlines Alan Kristal, one of the other authors of the study.
Funded by the National Cancer Institute, this study is the first since 1994 to examine the effects nutrition facts have on a person's diet. That was the year Congress declared a law requiring that every food package carry consumer information on the amount of calories, saturated fats, sodium, vitamins A and C and other components contained.
What is your profile in comparison with the "ideal reader"? Let's see if you resemble:
- People who firmly believe in low-calorie diets. These people are 10 times more interested in nutrition facts than skeptics.
- People who are conscious of the health risks a bad diet can bring. It's only natural that someone with high blood pressure notices the amount of sodium while those who fear osteoporosis look at the amount of calcium.
- Overweight or obese people that have already begun to change their ways. People who have not begun dieting tend to have an "I don't care" attitude when it comes to nutrition facts, and prefer to ignore them.
- Fans of dietary supplements who work out regularly. Women who are gym-goers are often concerned about nutrition facts.
Study analysts did not, however, find a link between reading the labels and eating more vegetables and fruits. "Almost all these products are healthy, and people don't need to read nutrition facts to know that," affirms Kristal.
Another peculiarity of the research was that many people read the entire label yet only half of them understand what they read. Very few people interviewed understood that the amount of calories refers to a certain serving size of the product, for example 150 calories in four cookies, nor did they know the meaning of "percent daily value." Nevertheless, it's common to compare calorie content of different brands, and then choose the one that has the least although the difference may be minimal such as less than 5 calories.
The point is: reading nutrition facts makes a difference. As the experts say, even though you're in a hurry to find what you need for dinner that night, take the time to inform yourself properly. With more information at hand, you will be better able to choose products that help you lose those extra pounds and eat healthy.
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