Nutrition Labels Are Confusing and Unhelpful, But There’s a Better Alternative

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Even if you’re relatively well-versed in the language of nutrition, the Nutrition Facts labels found on the sides of food packaging can be extremely confusing. What does it mean if something has a lot of fiber, but also a lot of carbs? How much sugar is too much sugar? Those little boxes throw a lot of information at you all at once.

For a recent study published in Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, a group of researchers from McGill University compared this system, used in the U.S. and Canada, to several alternatives by running them all through a previously developed computational model of human decision-making. They found that Nutrition Facts “took more time to understand and led to nutrition choices hardly different from chance,” as the press release explains. The best alternative? A system called NuVal in which nutrition experts combine all the information usually found in the Nutrition Facts into one number between 1 and 100.

It’s interesting that the researchers used a simulation of decision-making rather than recruit actual humans for the study, but this result shouldn’t come as a surprise in light of past research into how and why people make poor nutrition decisions. Given what we know, there’s little reason to think drowning consumers in a sea of numbers and percentages should work.

Nutrition Labels Are Confusing and Unhelpful