Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving

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The argument against glycemic index labelling


The International Scientific Consensus Summit on Glycemic Index, Glycemic Load and Glycemic Response resulted in a consensus statement that, among other things, proposed consideration of the inclusion of glycemic index/load on nutrition labels. As a dietitian I can see how that information might be interesting and useful. However, I’m not so sure that it would be all that useful to the vast majority of consumers. Most people struggle with label reading as it is and adding GI information (which can be confusing) will just complicate matters. It’s also just one of many factors to take into consideration when selecting foods.

A high glycemic index rating doesn’t necessarily make for an unhealthy food (think watermelon). Just as a low glycemic index rating doesn’t necessarily make for a healthy food (think agave syrup). This doesn’t even get into the complication of the difference between glycemic index and glycemic load. let’s just say that GL has more meaning and leave it at that. Another consideration: we don’t eat most foods in isolation. Bread has a fairly high GI but how often do you eat a slice of bread by itself? Most of us will use it for a sandwich or toast it and spread peanut butter on it. The addition of low GI foods mediates the effect that high GI foods have on your blood sugar. I also foresee such labeling as another opportunity for the food industry to mislead consumers (think “gluten-free” and “cholesterol-free”). Health-washing processed foods so that people can feel better about buying their low-GI agave sweetened corn puffs.

Nutrition has already become far too complicated. I don’t think that we need another number on packages to make things more complicated for people. A good rule of thumb: avoid foods with packages altogether as often as possible.

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Should food packaging take a cue from Australian tobacco?

An Australian court recently upheld a law banning logos and company advertising directly on cigarette packages. Instead, packages must now feature only graphic images of the terrible things that smoking can do to a person. Brand names must all adhere to the same font, location, and colour.

Nutrition has recently been taking cues from progress made in the tobacco industry. I wonder what would happen if branding and nutrition claims were removed from all food packages. I know that it seems a little hard to fathom but imagine going to the grocery store and not being inundated by branded food products with a myriad of nutrition claims. Imagine simple packaging with ingredients and nutrition facts, or even new and improved simplified nutrition information panels. How much easier would it be to make choices? You could still be loyal to your favourite brands but your decision would no longer be affected by claims to lower your cholesterol or boost your antioxidants.

Just to play devil’s advocate… Maybe it could even be taken a step further. There could be gruesome images of the negative effects of excess sodium for foods containing more than a certain percentage of your recommended daily sodium consumption, the same for foods high in saturated or trans-fat, nitrates, and the list goes on. I bet seeing photos of colostomy bags would drive down sales of hot dogs.