Reading Food Labels Gets Easier

Food health rating programs aim to help grocery buyers make better choices.

By Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD/LD
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Feature

Reviewed By Louise Chang, MD

You know you should get in the habit of reading food labels when you shop for groceries, but it's not always easy. When you're in a hurry, it's easy to grab familiar foods without checking much more than the front of the package. And with so many foods to choose from -- and so much confusing information on labels - it can be hard to make choices with confidence.

Consumers are confused and not totally comfortable reading labels because the information on the label does not make it clear how it relates to national health recommendations," says Mary Hartley, MPH, RD, nutritionist for Calorie Count Plus, a food-scoring program at the About.com web site.

The fact is that some of the claims on the fronts of the packages don't tell the whole story, says Supermarket Savvy newsletter editor Linda McDonald, RD.

"Many packages trumpet the benefit of a single attribute, like no trans fats, while ignoring other important information that consumers need to know, like how much saturated fat or added sodium is in that trans fat-free product," McDonald says.

The good news is that some grocery chains, food companies, and other groups are implementing food scoring programs aimed at making it easier to choose wisely. These programs range from icons on the front of packages, to markers on store shelves, to online programs in which foods are scored according to their healthfulness.

How the Scoring Systems Work