Archive for the ‘nutrition’ Category

Numbers by the color: new approaches to nutrition labeling

August 12, 2011

Samples of winning labels designed by Renee Walker. (Image:

Food labels are designed to convey a great deal of information. Not only do they tell us what the product, ideally, looks like but they’re designed, too, to tell us how much we’re buying, what’s contained inside, and to promise our lives will be somehow enhanced with the purchase of that canister of Pringles. What they don’t tell us, of course, is of what the food inside is actually comprised.

Nutrition labeling has garnered more and more attention over the past few years as consumers have begun to take a greater interest in the foods they eat. Granted, much of that new-found interest stems from the dismayingly high numbers of food recalls but, hey, interest is interest. Interestingly enough, that desire to know often turns out to be on a direct collision course with what food producers actually want to tell you.

Last month, Good magazine, Designmatters, and News21, announced the winner of a contest to design a more informative, user-friendly nutrition label. The winner, San Francisco-based designer Renee Walker, devised a dramatically simple, easy-to-comprehend label that with little more than a glance, can provide shoppers with a pretty accurate idea as to what happens to be in that package of tortillas or macaroni and cheese.

Using color codes – blue for dairy, for example, green for plants, red for fruit, different shades of gray for various additives – Walker devised a label that tells you almost at a glance how much of that mac and cheese is comprised of grains or cheese or additives. As it stands now, while labels do tell you what’s inside your grape jelly, they don’t reveal the ratio of grapes to sugar.

Further information reveals the recommended daily allowance for the product’s various nutrients such as vitamins, minerals, fats, and sodium. They’re there in big black block letters, easy to read, easy to understand. Will this label ever see the grocery shelves? No.

But that wasn’t really the point.

“[T]he point of the contest wasn’t to concoct the perfect label,” observed the web site Fast Co.Design. “It was to show that, with a little creativity, the existing model can be vastly improved upon to help consumers make smarter, healthier decisions.”


Why Johnny doesn’t get enough fiber

June 4, 2009
white bread

Bready, but not whole wheat. (Photo: Stock.xchng)

ScienceDaily – While most nutrition experts agree that school lunches should include more whole-grain products, a new study from the University of Minnesota finds that food-service workers lack understanding and the resources to meet that goal. Full story

Poverty and poor diets go hand-in-hand

May 26, 2009
Not exactly a nutrition bonanza, but they're tasty, filling, and cheap.

Not exactly a nutrition bonanza, but they're tasty, filling, and cheap.

Poor people can’t afford to buy nutritious food. This is hardly a revelation, but according to a study from the University of Washington, nutritionists have long placed the onus of responsibility for poor diets on those who can least afford to eat well.

Many nutritionists insist that Americans have equal access to healthy foods; they simply need to make an effort. Focusing purely on nutrient needs while excluding social context often leads to low-income consumers receiving recommendations for high-cost foods. A more realistic approach would take food prices, preferences, and social norms into account before issuing dietary advice to the public.

“Can low-income Americans afford a healthy diet?”, written by Adam Drewnowski and Petra Eichelsdoerfer with the University of Washington Center for Public Health Nutrition (UWCPHN), concludes that low-income families can’t afford to buy the nutritious foods they need. Even more damning is the statement that many public health officials and nutritionists are providing recommendations that are little more than useless for those struggling to make ends meet and still put good food on the table.

The ability to follow a healthy diet depends on having sufficient knowledge, money, and time. Low-income families often lack these basic social and material resources. Limited access to healthy foods may be one reason why low income Americans suffer from the highest obesity rate.

So what is a more realistic approach? Ideally, it would be recognizing that people with less schooling and less money are more likely to consume less nutritious foods because they have fewer options. In another study, also from UWCPHN, Drewnowski points out that nutrition-related diseases such as diabetes and obesity are more common among low-income Americans than among people with higher incomes. Food that is nutritionally rich costs more. Or, as the first study notes: “Promoting luxury food items to low-income people is a questionable strategy for public health”.

“As food prices go up, the natural tendency is to fill up on inexpensive sweets and fats,” said Drewnowski in a press release from University of Washington’s press office. “We need to make affordable nutrient-rich foods available to every American household”.