What would happen if the food in the US were graded? Something tells me we wouldn’t pass the test with flying colors. That’s exactly what they’re trying out across the pond, though.
In an effort to eliminate confusion from marketing claims that otherwise confuse consumers, Europe has introduced a Food Scoring System. The system is called the Nutri-Score, and it grades products from “A” to “E” based on their content of fibers, proteins, saturated fats, and sugars.
The Pros & Cons of the Nutri-Score
Based on information from Amy Reed, MS, RD, CSP, LD, a pediatric dietitian and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the Nutri-Score does seem to be aligned with the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which encourages the intake of nutrient-dense foods.
Although the scoring system is relatively new, there are some already-studied benefits to its implementation in grocery stores across the EU. Research on the Nutri-Score thus far says that it can help consumers determine whether a food is a healthy option or not based on certain criteria. In Germany, specifically, researchers found that without the grading, consumers were misled into thinking the options were healthier than they actually were.
The products in question ranged from instant cappuccino, chocolate muesli, and an oat beverage — all pretty popular items, and all products with labels boasting “no sugar added” or other greenwashing terms that could easily mislead consumers.
On the other hand, a potential downside to utilizing the Nutri-Score system is the bias of consumers to eat more of the foods that score higher, even if they aren’t necessarily healthy options. This is almost exactly the trap marketing departments everywhere want us to fall for — buying something because the label makes it seem healthier.
Another potential downside to the Nutri-Score is the lack of acknowledgment of evolving needs of different populations. Reed mentions that different age groups (like small children under the age of 2) require specific nutrients for development, like fat for brain development. The Nutri-Score doesn’t differentiate between healthy or unhealthy fats, or whether a “low fat” product would be a poor or wise choice for this age group. This lack of information could further mislead consumers (like parents) into buying something that actually isn’t health-conscious for their family.
So what’s the bottom line?
While the Nutri-Score can ultimately help with misleading label claims, it doesn’t solve the whole problem of misinformation around nutrition and healthy eating from the diet industry, itself.
Good nutrition first requires acknowledging what your specific goals are, and then creating a plan to achieve those goals. If you are looking to reduce sugar or saturated fat intake, reading nutrition labels (including ingredients) is imperative; you have to know what is in your food in order to better make educated decisions.
But labels aren’t the most important part of nutrition: if you are just trying to incorporate more whole foods into your diet, opting for items that don’t have a label might actually be a good rule of thumb (like produce, or meat from the butcher counter).
It all comes down to education, and empowering yourself with the knowledge of what foods will help you feel your best. A labelling system like Nutri-Score is better than nothing, but personal education far superior.