When you visit the grocery store, do you look at food labels? A new study conducted at the University of Minnesota reveals that people actually don’t look at labels as often as they say they do.
Researchers asked 203 people to participate in a computer simulated grocery shopping exercise. The volunteers were shown different food items and asked to indicate whether or not they would normally buy them. For each of the 64 food items, the screen showed a 3 column split – one with a picture of the food, one with a list of the ingredients, and one with the nutrition facts.
After the session, the volunteers were asked to fill out a survey about whether they looked at the Nutrition Facts label and what information they searched for on the label. About 1/3 of people reported almost always looking at the calorie and fat content of the foods they chose.
Here comes the interesting part: the computer system actually had an eye tracking device that tracked the participants’ eye movements as they looked at the different foods. This device found that only 9% looked at calorie counts for all the items, and only 1% looked at fat content for all the items.
It isn’t completely bad news – most people looked at parts of the labels during some of foods in the experiment. But even this might overestimate consumer behavior in the store, when they actually have to pick up and turn the container to view the label (in the computer experiment, the labels were right up front on the screen).
Why is this important? If you shop for your family’s food choices, there are no doubt tons of choices on the market. Using the food labels can help you make the most nutritious choices for your family. Many people feel labels can be overwhelming, so here are a few tips for your next shopping trip:
- Choose foods that are nutrient rich – ones that contain fresh fruits/vegetables, contain a good balance of vitamins and minerals, etc.
- Look for foods that contain 0 grams of trans fat. Remember to also check the ingredients, since a food can contain up to half a gram of trans fat and still list 0 grams on the label. Avoid words like “partially hydrogenated oil.”
- For grain products, look at the ingredients to ensure it is made of a whole grain. Just because bread is brown doesn’t necessarily mean it is made from whole wheat.
- Check out the serving size and the servings per container. A lot of “snack size” containers actually contain multiple servings!