This piece was written by one of contributors; registered nutritionist – Ghazel.
It is a legal requirement of companies to provide nutritional information on food labels to help consumers choose between different products, brands and flavours.
But how much does this information actually affect the choice of food, and later on health, when we do our shopping?
The mandatory information list in the UK includes the following:
- Name of food or drink
- List of ingredients
- Alcoholic strength (if applicable)
- Weight or volume
- Date mark
- Storage and preparation conditions
- Name and address of the manufacturer, packer or seller
- Country of origin and place of provenance
- NUTRITION INFORMATION
Nutrition information includes the RIs (reference intakes) which are there to support the dietary choices of consumers to balance their day to day intake. If a portion of food you take from the shelf says it contains 60% for saturated fat, this means that this food item contains more than half of your daily max and therefore for the rest of the day you should aim to select foods lower in saturated fat. This allows a comparison between foods we eat in terms of their nutrient content.
Interestingly, these values are provided as standards set for adult women. The RIs were developed for excessively consumed nutrients that should not be overeaten on a regular basis. For that reason, to decrease the amount of these nutrients consumed women’s values are used as they are higher for men.
BUT there is very little evidence that such labelling changes eating behaviours for the better.
A new study looked into whether Physical Activity Calorie Equivalent (PACE) food labelling, where the information included how much exercise does one need to perform to expend the amount of kcal that a food or beverage contains.
This is a new initiative to induce healthier food choices. Compared to any other kind of labels on food, 15 studies have shown that PACE labelling on foods/drinks/menus/ has led to dietary choices with significantly less kcal in them.
While it may be an interesting idea showing some promises it is important to bear in mind that for every good there is a bad. It would have to account for our daily requirements, individual differences in energy expenditure and for disability, which it does not. In addition, it gives the public the perception that one must work out after eating. So perhaps PACE may disseminate more anxiety over food, especially for individuals with eating disorders