by Matt Weik
We try and eat healthy on a regular basis. Key word being “try.” Some of us succeed, some of us fail. But, it seems like we all have a difference of opinion when it comes to what is considered to be a “healthy snack.” Sure, marketing plays a huge role, because many of us expect manufacturers and brands to be honest. Unfortunately, these days brands are stretching the truth and pushing things on their packaging to entice you to purchase, yet they might not be the best option for you. Deceptive? Yes. Illegal? No. The question arises, should there be more regulation on what can go on consumer-packaged goods?
Is this good?
On product packaging these days, many are saying the item is “nutritious,” but what exactly does that mean? It appears that consumers and experts have different definitions and things they look at and for.
Researchers are saying, “In order to promote healthy eating and to design nutrition information panels that are relevant to consumer needs, it is important for nutrition experts and policy makers to understand how the general population defines and interprets the term ‘nutritious’. In line with how nutrient profile scores are defined, experts used terms such as micronutrients and macronutrients, vitamins and minerals, as well as nutrient density and concentration. Lay participants [the general public and consumer], however, used more holistic and descriptive terms such as body needs, fuel, and fresh.”
“The term ‘nutritious’ is currently not regulated in most countries and little is known about how consumers interpret the term. The results also highlight the potential need for definitions and regulation of the term ‘nutritious’ in food marketing.” I believe this is very important even though there has been a crackdown on what manufacturers can put on labels, there are still many out there that are extremely misleading.
Beg to ask the question…
In a published study, researchers asked 269 consumers and 206 nutrition experts what their individual definition is for “nutritious.” They were then asked to view 20 different snack foods and establish if they are nutritious or not (in their opinion). What they found was that the experts spoke about their actual makeup—calories, macronutrients, and micronutrients. Then when the consumers were asked to describe the same 20 snacks, they spoke about if the item was natural, fresh, used as fuel, etc.
Out of all the foods, there seemed to be the biggest difference in whether or not toast and yogurt is considered a healthy snack. Consumers deemed these food items as not nutritious, while the nutrition experts said that they were. Other items such as rice cakes, carrot cake, and other snacks both groups seemed to be on the same page.
I think for the most part (at least I’d like to believe) that we are on the same page in terms of what’s a healthy snack and what isn’t. We’ve been beating the dead horse in the media on “eat this, not that” type of content. Sure, there might be some confusing snacks, but for the most part we should all know the difference on 90% of the items we would normally be consuming. On a side note, it’s my belief that most people who consume the unhealthy snack options know they are unhealthy, they simply don’t care and want to eat them anyway because they taste good.
What is trying to be accomplished by this research?
This research is trying to help determine a standardized definition for what is considered nutritious. More and more brands are using it in their marketing and there seems to be a clear separation between what experts consider a healthy snack and what consumers view as a healthy snack.
Does the current term truly not mean much in the grand scheme of things since there is no regulation or true definition for the term and how it’s used? Experts look at the macronutrient and micronutrient breakdown whereas the general public looks for terms like natural and other triggers and keywords. From person experience, much of our population doesn’t even understand those terms from the population that I’ve spoken in front of and talked about macronutrients and micronutrients and got the deer in the headlights stare. That’s not to say they aren’t smart, it’s simply because they aren’t as educated on the subject. They might have been trained to read labels, but unfortunately quite a few are misleading if you don’t dive deeper into the nutritionals of the product.
With all of that being said, we need to have better guidelines in place to help not only educate the consumer, but to prevent brands from putting terms such as “nutritious” or “healthy” on their packaging if the product truly isn’t a healthy snack option. While the macronutrients and micronutrients are broken down on the nutrition label, many consumers don’t understand how to read the label or even what each of the macro and micronutrients do for the body. It’s unfortunate, but not many consumers even understand the difference in fats.
I think this study brings value and can help make change to the way we define healthy snacks. Do I think things will change overnight? Absolutely not, especially since there are no regulations in place currently. But, hopefully this will get things in motion to put something in place. I believe brands should be forced to be transparent with their products. It would force them to rethink cutting corners or using subpar ingredients in their profiles. This should go across all industries as well, including the supplement industry.
Bucher, Tamara., et al. “What is Nutritious Snack Food? A Comparison of Expert and Layperson Assessments.” Nutrients. Volume 9, Number 8, page 874.