As someone who would like to make a better effort to eat healthy, one of the worst things I’ve found for my morale is to take a look at the nutritional labels printed on the side of every single food product. By law companies are required to give us the fat content, serving size, amount of daily vitamin requirements, etc. for each product, and the more I read the more imposing it all feels. Why exactly does it have this effect on me? Well, I’m going to get into that and then tell me if it feels the same way to you.
Too Much Information
The first thing I always see when looking at the nutrition facts on a food box is the inside of my eyelids and I’m quickly so bored with the glut of info that I can hardly pay attention. There’s just so much and so little of it is in an easily understandable form. Most of the time I just look at the amount of calories and the calories from fat on the label, and if they both seem relatively low, I’ll just go ahead and toss the thing into my cart. With all of the things on the side, there’s just too much to wade through to find any understanding of how it’s relevant to me and my needs. Which by the way makes me frustrated that while it says so much…
Not Enough Information
How is it that something that takes the time to list out the amount of vitamin C and iron and potassium and ingredients and fat content and blah blah blah somehow misses the point in the first place: Most people who look at food labels don’t know what they’re looking at and why it means anything to them. Yes, there are certainly a number of intelligent and informed individuals that know why they should eat this food over that based on the amount of zinc per serving in whichever food, but when I stumble in, jaw slacken and feet shuffling, hungry and stupid and ready to eat, when I look at the side of a cereal box or something and just see plain vanilla facts tossed at me (especially if I’m looking at the food label for plain vanilla ice cream), then my only response is to ask, “Okay, but what does it mean that this has 6% iron in it?” There’s no context for anything if you haven’t studied the system, so why would I bother with it anyway? Even if I did understand what’s going on, there are still further problems, like…
Why is it that every single serving size is so obscure and frustrating that there’s hardly any point to it at all? If we assume I’m still holding that box of cereal and I see that a serving size is 2 cups, what does that actually mean? A cup is a solid unit of measurement, yes, but it’s abstract to the human mind. Show me a cup of cereal and I’ll get it but don’t make me try and guess with my memory because it’ll never look right. At the very least there are some products that are kind enough to specify specific serving sizes, like 2 cookies or 1 package, but even then we stop and scratch our heads at some of the other serving sizes. We realize that a bag of chips claims a serving size is roughly 8 chips, and suddenly we can’t help but laugh as that’s ridiculously low. Brian Regan did a whole comedy bit about the serving size of some ice creams being half a cup. Who exactly decides how large these serving sizes need to be? And why can’t they just put them in easily relatable terms like “the size of a baseball” or “10 spoonfuls” just to keep it simple?
Basically, when I take a look at food labels, I get intimidated. Trying to figure out a series of complicated math equations in my head while being hungry is no simple task, and I don’t understand why both food companies and the governmental departments that handle the food labels want to make it so difficult to really grasp. Or maybe that’s just me. Am I way off base here? Do I just need to take a nap, eat a snack, and come back to this one? How do you feel about food labels?