Buying groceries online has become a popular alternative to going to the grocery store, especially since the beginning of the COVID pandemic. Many, if not most, sites, however, offer consumers little nutrition information for food items purchased online, and this is not good for your health. In the store, you can read labels to find fat, vitamin and calorie content.

Compared to an in-person trip to the grocery store, the nutritional information you have at your fingertips online is far more limited, a study finds.

The information was not always easily accessible or easy to read if it was there at all.

There are pros and cons to online grocery shopping. It’s a great time saver, and it’s convenient. You can shop from the comfort of your favorite chair or while waiting in the doctor’s office. It helps you avoid impulse purchases or falling victim to marketing tricks in the store. But you also give up some things when shopping online, like the ability to choose your own produce and meat, and in some cases to read and compare nutrition labels.

That’s what University of Minnesota researchers found when they evaluated 12 leading grocery store websites in the U.S. and looked at the availability of nutrition information for 26 food items. The nutrition facts panel and ingredient information were available within one click of the product page for 85 percent of packaged food items. However, the food label with the list of ingredients was not always findable on food items for which labeling is mandatory, and the information was not always easily accessible or easy to read if it was there at all.

The ability to filter the search for grocery items based on a nutrition-related element such as gluten-free was often available, but the ability to filter for something such as the amount of sodium in a serving of a product was not displayed on any of the websites.

Such shortcomings in the ability to shop for healthy food items could negatively affect shoppers’ ability to choose foods that meet their nutritional or medical needs.

Very little research has been dedicated to online grocery stores and how consumers use them to shop for food. With the steady growth of online grocery shopping, more research is needed on how it may affect consumers’ nutritional choices. More thought needs to be put into how grocery store websites are designed so health-conscious consumers — which should be all of us — can make better choices.

The study is published in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior.