New UK food labeling brings food contents to the fore
By Sue Marshall
The government’s Food Standards Agency (FSA) has been working with food manufacturers to agree a standard set of guidelines for food labeling. It’s been a long and oftentimes uphill struggle, but it’s starting to show some real headway now.
Recently introduced, the ‘traffic lights’ system is something that many diabetics will be familiar with, so having them on food labels will be an added boon.
The traffic light system
Traffic light colours can help you get the balance right by helping you to choose between products and keep a check on the high-fat, high-sugar and high-salt foods you eat. You can use the signpost labelling to help put you in control, so keep a look out for the colours on the front of food packs.
The traffic light colours will make it easier for you to compare products at a glance. If the label tells you how much of the nutrient is in a portion, this can also help you to compare products. You might be surprised how much difference there can be between similar products. If your favourite foods get some red traffic lights, it’s still fine to have them occasionally.
Personally, I find labels to be an enormous help with helping me manage my diabetes, and I’m glad that reading them is becoming easier with more standards being used (per serving as well as per 100g, for example).
Visit the FSA’s site at www.eatwell.gov.uk/foodlabels/trafficlights to see more.
The glycaemic index
The glyceamic index was invented to help people with diabetes best judge which food to eat to go with their medications. It has become more-and-more well-known and popular, more recently as a ‘new’ diet fad. But for people with diabetes it’s an invaluable tool and having knowledge of the GI works really well with food labels.
You will hear of both the Glyceamic Index (GI) and the Glycemic Load (GL). The Glyceamic Index is a dietary index that’s used to rank carbohydrate-based foods. The Glyceamic Index predicts the rate at which the ingested food will increase blood sugar levels. Glyceamic Load is equal to the Glyceamic Index of a food times the number of grams of carbohydrates in the serving of food that’s being eaten. Glyceamic Load is believed to correlate more directly to blood sugar level changes than Glyceamic Index.[See the other article on this site about the history of the GI]
The ‘what’s inside?’ guide
The ‘whatsinsideguide’ is another new labeling system being introduced across foods in the UK. If you want to keep tabs on what you’re eating, now you can keep an eye out for the What’s Inside Guide which is on many of your favourite foods and drinks.
This new, at-a-glance label tells you how many calories, sugars, fat, saturates and salt there are in what you’re about to eat including a reference to your Guideline Daily Amounts(GDAs). These can be used to take the guesswork out of what we should be eating and make planning a healthy balanced diet so much easier.
The What’s Inside Guide is supported by some of the biggest and best names in the industry – names like Cadbury, Coca-Cola Great Britain, Danone, Kellogg’s, Kraft, Masterfoods, Nestle, Quaker, Ryvita, Tate & Lyle, Unilever and Walkers.
The new labels show percentages on the labels, but what do they mean? By turning all those numbers on your What’s Inside Guide into percentages – figures out of one hundred – they’ve done all the hard work for you. At a glance it’s now possible to see how much of your Guideline Daily Amounts are in a portion of food or drink. You can then use these percentages to compare different foods.
Find out more at www.whatsinsideguide.com
Some views and opinions of the FSA labeling system:
The Food Standards Agency’s recommended approach to signpost labelling is backed by a large number of consumer, health and medical groups, some of which are listed below with statements from their representatives:
Diabetes UK – Douglas Smallwood, Chief Executive: ‘It is vital that people with diabetes and those seeking to reduce the risk of developing the condition get information about foods to help make the right choices about what to eat. The FSA has undertaken a long period of research and consultation to get a scheme that will be effective. However, voluntary labelling will only work if manufacturers adhere to these guidelines. Providing information in different formats is likely to be little better than giving no information at all, so it’s really important that the food industry is consistent.’
British Heart Foundation – Peter Hollins, Director General: ‘The BHF supports the FSA’s approach to front of pack signpost labelling as it offers instant help to shoppers at the point of sale. We think it is important this information is provided in an easily understood, colour coded format, and from an independent source people can trust, such as the FSA’.
National Federation of Women’s Institutes – Fay Mansell, Chair: ‘We have long campaigned for food labelling that is consistent, clear and informative to help consumers make healthier choices and we strongly support clear nutritional labelling on the front of food packs. Research shows that the FSA’s traffic light colour-coded approach is the format most easily understood by consumers, allowing them to make healthy choices quickly.’ www.womens-institute.co.uk
National Consumer Council – Jillian Pitt, Senior Policy Advocate: ‘NCC’s research confirms that consumers are trying to adopt healthier lifestyles and want a standard, colour-coded, at-a-glance front-of-pack labelling system to help them make quick, informed decisions before they buy. The FSA’s traffic light labelling scheme does just does that.’
National Heart Forum – Paul Lincoln, Chief Executive: ‘We know that consumers want a single, authoritative nutritional labelling scheme they can rely on whatever the brand and wherever they shop. The FSA traffic-light based scheme will help busy people choose at-a-glance between foods which are high in fat, sugar or salt and healthier alternatives.’ www.heartforum.org.uk
Netmums – Cathy Court, Director of Food and Nutrition: ‘Netmums’ research has shown that parents want clear, honest labelling to help them choose healthy food for their families. The FSA’s traffic light approach provides exactly that – good, clear, ‘at a glance’ nutritional information that consumers can use to good effect and with very little effort. Simple colour-coding on the front of packaging helps parents to understand the choices they are making for themselves and their children. The FSA is to be congratulated on providing something that really works for busy parents. Netmums looks forward to seeing the scheme adopted by all supermarkets and food manufacturers. www.netmums.com
Royal College of Physicians – Professor Ian Gilmore, President: ‘Obesity and unhealthy eating are a real and serious threat to the health of individuals and the Nation. The complex nature of this threat requires a clear and coherent strategy – the Royal College of Physicians welcomes the FSA’s approach to front of pack labelling as a most necessary and practical element of such a strategy. ”We are impressed by the results of consumer research undertaken by the FSA which indicated that traffic light colours are key to helping consumers make healthier choices. Traffic lights will also undoubtedly assist health professionals when providing advice about healthier lifestyles.’ www.rcplondon.ac.uk
The Office of the Children’s Commissioner – Professor Sir Albert Aynsley-Green, Children’s Commissioner for England: ‘The Food Standard Agency’s Traffic Light System delivers what consumers need: a simple method to explain what’s contained in the foods they buy. This system would give shoppers more choice to make healthier purchases and has the potential to reduce obesity among our children and young people. We hope it will be used at the forefront of initiatives to limit young people’s exposure to foods that are high in fat, salt and sugar.’ www.childrenscommissioner.org
Which? – Sue Davies, Chief Policy Adviser: ‘The FSA’s colour-coded front of pack signposting model is the best way of helping busy consumers make healthy choices. At last consumers looking for a balanced diet won’t have to spend hours in the supermarket deciphering labels In order to give people looking for healthier options the best chance food companies across the UK must adopt the FSA model.’