March 2, 2010

Design Exercise: Nutrition fact labeling

I am not a fan of the current FDA regulated Nutrition labeling. Counting calories is difficult enough but what about the people interested in measuring their daily protein intake? The problem is that nutrition labeling is an overly complicated and insufficient means of 'being informed' about what you are actually eating. Serving Sizes are always unique and never quite accurate as some self serve drinks in cold cases contain 2 servings. Let's think about this for one second. You're at Target, you reach into a cold case for something like a Snapple but never bother to check the nutrition label because you assume that it's healthy. I mean, just look at it, graphics of fruit and labeling like "contains REAL fruit juice"! The sad truth is that these products usually contain a second serving and consuming an entire bottle spikes your blood sugar levels and then before you know it you've consumed the same calories you could've had by eating a healthy snack that would have made you less hungry for a longer period of time.

Below is an exercise (definitely not THE solution) in labeling 4 different foods nutrition levels calories for calorie. Regardless of serving size, for every nibble, bite or entire package you consume-your nutrition level is reflected. The formula follows the FDA recommended intake of Carbs, protein and fats per calorie.
Where 2000 calories = 65gFat(585calories) + 300gCarbs(1200calories) + 50gProtein(200calories)

First we have a nice juicy-carcinogen-filled big mac.
Carbs are slightly low, protein is very high and fat also very high. If you ate Big Macs for breakfast lunch and dinner your cholesterol levels would rise from the fat and proteins but no energy to maintain a healthy heart without carbohydrates. Of course, we already know what happens when you live off of McDonald's food...

Our next contestant is Oreos. Chocolate + lard. YUM.
Oreos are a staple of the vegan diet because they contain so many synthetics they don't include any organic ingredients derived from animals. Oreos are a nice fit for the carbohydrate intake but imagine how weak you would be and overweight...Now think about obesity in American children and diabetes. Any relationship? Also, I read that sales of double stuffed Oreos far surpass regular Oreos nowadays.

One potential problem with this design system is that foods which are generally acknowledged as 'healthy' might have readings which seem off the chart or unhealthy. Below is an example of how Almonds would rate.
There is possibility that a parent shopping for their child might see the high amount of fats as unhealthy. In reality a huge percentage of the fats in almonds are great for maintaining cholesterol levels. Ideally a diet including almonds would necessitate the rest of foods eaten throughout the day being low in fat, high in carbohydrates, and stable protein levels....Wait that sounds like Fruits, Vegetables and Dairy products....

Finally we have Apples.
You can clearly see that apples are a bit higher than the FDAs recommended carbohydrate intake-severely low in protein and fat. This is why you should not sustain yourself on Apples alone. Again, a well balanced diet is key.

What I've learned from this design quickie is that nutrition labeling is no easy task: but it isn't impossible. There just has to be a more effective way of communicating nutrition levels for consumers. My concept excludes the important information regarding Vitamin and Mineral intake so a subsystem dedicated to those would need to be implemented. Additionally I haven't listed a caloric intake so people counting their calories would be in distress! Whole Foods has implemented their ANDI nutrition rating but I'm not a proponent of their rating system. I have to give a huge shout-out to the Nuval Rating system for their work done so far. I'd like to see their identity system flushed out a tiny bit more but their heads are in the right places.


Christopher Griego
graphic designer
Austin, TX
portfolio -

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