Pros and Cons of European Food Labels

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Experts say consumers can be misled by the sugar content on food labels. d3sign/Getty Images
  • Researchers say the European Nutri-Score labeling system can help consumers determine the sugar and other healthy ingredients in foods.
  • The system grades products from ‘A’ to ‘E’ based on fiber, protein, saturated fat and sugar content.
  • Experts say such a system could help U.S. consumers quickly determine the healthiest products to buy.
  • They note that people tend to overconsume products that rank favorably, leading to weight gain and other health problems.

The presence of sugar on food labels can mislead consumers into making healthier choices than they actually are, experts say.

For example, phrases like ‘less sweet’ or ‘no sugar’ tend to give the impression that these foods are good for a balanced diet, when in fact they may not be. .

Now, an analysis by researchers from the University of Göttingen, Germany, was published today in the journal pro swan It suggests that this sugar mess may have a solution.

It’s called Nutri-Score, and it’s a nutritional food scoring system that’s growing in use across Europe.

A new analysis examined data from an online survey that included 1,103 German participants. The lack of Nutri-Score on the labels of instant cappuccinos, chocolate muesli and oat drinks misleads people into thinking their food choices are healthier than they actually are, researchers say.

In contrast, when people were presented with the same foods and their nutritional scores, researchers said misconceptions about health were significantly reduced.

The researchers called for limiting the use of sugar content claims and similar labels, as well as requiring the use of Nutri-Score by companies making such claims.

The study authors said more research is needed on the effects of Nutri-Score on additional food categories other than sugar and in relation to other advertising claims that may mislead consumers about food health. I said there is.

Nutri-Score is a grading system developed to help people make healthier food choices more easily.

It consists of a five-step scale.

  • The letter ‘A’ is the most preferred choice and is shown in dark green
  • The letter “B” is light green, meaning it’s still the preferred choice
  • The letter “C” is a balanced choice and is yellow
  • The letter “D” is less preferred and orange
  • The letter ‘E’ is the least preferred option and is red

Healthier choices and better scores are associated with higher fiber, protein, fruit and vegetable content.

Saturated fat, added sugar, and salt all contribute to a less favorable score.

“Nutri-Score could give people a quick way to decide if a product is right for their family,” spokesperson for Grand Rapids, Michigan, and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

“Eating a healthy, balanced diet can help lower your risk of illness, and healthy eating starts at the grocery store,” she told Healthline.

“However, choosing the right kind of food and drink to fortify one’s diet can often be time-consuming and confusing.” I want to be in and out of the grocery store in a short amount of time, choosing the right foods.”

The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends:

  • Men consume no more than 9 teaspoons (36 grams) of added sugar per day
  • Women should consume no more than 6 teaspoons (24 grams)

Amy Reed, MS, RD, CSP, LD, pediatric nutritionist and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, told Healthline that the Nutri-Score system is aligned with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020-2025. He says he can see it. intake of nutritious food.

Nutri-Score can miss certain needs

According to Reed, different age groups have different nutrient needs, and that’s not reflected in these scores.

For example, according to Reed, children under the age of 2 typically eat a high-fat diet to promote optimal brain development.

“So if a parent chooses a product based on a Nutri-Score that indicates it’s ‘low-fat,’ it may not be the best for the little one,” she explained.

“My concern is that if people do not understand the basics of proper nutrition, they may rely solely on Nutri-Score and not think critically about each product they are choosing,” she added. rice field.

So it’s perfectly fine to fill your cart with all ‘A’ scores, but when you come home and meet an angry family who occasionally prefer foods classified as ‘DE’, it can be an alternate reality. says Reed. range.

“We encourage consumers to think logically about their family’s needs and desires, as well as taking Nutri-Score into account,” she said.

Beware of the “Health Halo” Effect

Another concern with using Nutri-Score is that people may start taking advantage of the “health halo” effect when purchasing “A” products.

“People may overestimate the health benefits of products and overconsume.

For example, an “A” rated green smoothie drink may be good for you, but only if consumed in moderation.

Ultimately, overconsumption of “A” products can result in excessive calorie intake, which in any case can lead to unwanted weight gain.

According to the AHA, sugar consumption in American diets has increased steadily over the past 30 years.

This increase is associated with excessive caloric intake without nutritional benefit.

That’s why the AHA recommends limiting the amount of sugar you consume to avoid unnecessary calories that can lead to weight gain and poor heart health.

Know your current sugar intake

“The best way to reduce your intake of added sugars is to take the time to look at the food labels of the products you buy,” says Braganini.

“I always encourage my patients to take an interest in the foods they currently have in their home. ‘ she suggests.

“Current food labels list the total grams of sugar and the total grams of sugar added. “I want my patients to focus on the amount of sugar and the total amount of sugar served,” she says.

Check the label at the grocery store

The next step, says Braganini, is to take this knowledge to the grocery store, comparing product labels in the aisles and choosing products with less added sugar.

Slowly and steadily, not all at once

Braganini reminds people that quitting sugar can be difficult.

So it may help to reduce the added sugar slowly rather than removing it all at once.

Doing too much too quickly can leave some people feeling unsatisfied when they eat, which can lead to overdosing on sugary foods and drinks later, she explains.

honor your sweet tooth

Many people have a “sweet tooth” or persistent craving for sweets.

Braganini tells clients to respect sweets when they’re craving, but not before stopping and waiting 15 minutes for a glass of water.

“People often feel cravings when they aren’t getting enough hydration. .

“Fruit is sweet and satisfying, but if someone has a full-blown sugar craving, fruit may not be the answer,” she adds.

In those cases, opting for a small individually wrapped chocolate candy, a scrumptious ice cream in a coffee mug, or a cookie may be the answer to their craving. ”

Other ways to reduce sugar

Reed offers the following tips for cutting back on sugar.

  • Reduce added sugars from beverages: Substitute water for sodas and juices and reduce added syrups and flavors in coffee beverages.
  • Harness the natural sweetness of fruits to flavor foods such as plain yogurt, plain oatmeal, or unsweetened cereals
  • When purchasing ready-to-eat meals, refer to added sugars on food labels and choose foods with less than 5 grams of added sugar per serving.
  • Prepare baked goods by replacing half to all of the sugar with unsweetened applesauce or blended dates.

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