Answering 'THE' Question About Food

A new system offers a better way to size up food, according to its developer.

ByABC News
January 8, 2009, 12:23 AM

Nov. 29, 2007 — -- OK, I admit it. There are really two questions about food. Regarding the first -- "Does it taste good?" -- you're on your own. Taste, after all, is a matter of -- well, taste.

Regarding the second -- "Is it good for me?" -- I can help. How a food affects your health is a matter of science.

But until now, despite a great deal of nutrition science, it has been nearly impossible to size up the choices in a typical supermarket and determine if a food is good for you. It has been just as difficult to know if one product is better than another.

The difficulty may at one time have come from a lack of accessible nutrition information. But those days are long gone. What now makes it virtually impossible to determine the relative nutritiousness of foods is an overload of information, some of it arcane, much of it biased and most of it downright misleading. None of it reliably answers the question: "Is this product good for me?"

The FDA-mandated nutrition facts are useful, but they don't answer that question. A given food might be high in fiber, which is good, but also high in sugar, which is not so good. As compared to a product lower in both fiber and sugar -- which is better for you? You can't tell.

What about a food with high amounts of sugar or salt or saturated fat, but fortified with plenty of vitamins and minerals? Is it better or worse for you than a natural food without the added salt or sugar, but also lower in vitamins and minerals? Again, you can't tell.

If a product has a banner ad on the cover saying it contains whole grain, does that mean it's good for you? Not necessarily, because it doesn't say what else the product contains, such as trans fat, or high fructose corn syrup, or copious amounts of salt.

The product may boast about being "reduced salt" or containing "less sugar," but that's just the part of the story the folks selling it want to highlight. More often than not, less sugar means more salt, and vice versa. Less fat generally means more sugar and vice versa, too. A multigrain bread may not contain multiple whole grains. But the picture of waving wheat on the package will sure suggest that.