Front-of-Pack Claims: Get Back in the Zone

September 17, 2010

Consumer confusion seems to be one of the main reasons why many Americans are neither adopting healthy eating habits nor choosing healthier foods in the market.

Consumer confusion seems to be one of the main reasons why many Americans are neither adopting healthy eating habits nor choosing healthier foods in the market. Recent research highlights this fact and found that consumers tend to misinterpret front-of-package claims such as low-carbohydrate as having greater health and weight loss implications than the Nutrition Facts panel would suggest. Similarly, consumers view foods with the USDA organic logo as more healthful and containing fewer calories than their conventional counterparts. Clearly, clever marketing and general skewed perception of certain foods are steering consumers away from choosing healthier products. The Lempert Report decided to turn to world renowned nutrition expert, Dr. Barry Sears, the bestselling author of The Zone Diet (which focuses on the importance of consuming a healthy ratio of protein, fats and carbohydrates), for answers.

So why are consumers on a continued mission to avoid carbohydrates but still gaining weight? “Well this really boils down to the Atkins craze from 2003 to 2004 when carbohydrates were seen as the bad guy contributing to weight gain in the diet. At that time new food products were created targeting the low carb consumer which contained the ultimate ‘buyer beware,’ sugar alcohols [buyer beware because sugar alcohols can act as laxatives in the body] which taste sweet but do not clock in calories. The Atkins craze directed consumers to consume more proteins and fewer carbohydrates, but what the body really needs is balance. Many consumers are still stuck on the low carb mindset today turning to convenient processed foods for answers.”

“Unfortunately the economics of processed foods do not generally focus on the more expensive protein aspect. Instead, the more palatable refined carbohydrates and fats from vegetable sources take center stage. The combination of high Omega-6 vegetable oils (palm, canola soy, etc.) and refined carbohydrates in processed foods leads to inflammation throughout the body – which has had a significant impact on diet related chronic disease in this country. The increased intake of Omega-6 rich oils in processed foods, which are more convenient for consumers than for example cooking at home with olive oil, has significantly skewed the delicate Omega-3 to 6 balance that our bodies need to function healthfully and keep inflammation at bay. Because of their low cost, vegetable oils and refined carbohydrates are found in most processed foods; consumers want convenient cheap foods, and CPGs are going to give it to them.“   

The Lempert Report agrees with Dr. Sears notion that, “Until consumer stop relying on cheap, convenient processed foods, even those with various front-of-package claims, rather than take the time to cook lean proteins and a variety of vegetables at home, Americans waistlines are not going to shrink.”

Today, consumers have more choices in food than ever before. One of the keys to a healthier lifestyle is to certainly take the time to read food labels to verify front of package claims and prepare more foods at home. Education plays a major part of this equation; Dr. Sears continues to educate consumers through his many bestselling books (over five million copies sold in the US alone), lectures and interviews, and the Lempert Report commends the many supermarkets and CPGs that make their customers health a priority. Clearly, we still have a long road ahead; with joint responsibility. We must all play our part.