This one-dimensional approach could pose new risks to the public’s health
The Department of Health’s voluntary Responsibility Deal will require signatories including Sainsbury’s, Morrisons, ASDA, Compass Group, Premier Foods, Mars and Unilever to include prominent calorie labelling on all their food packaging from September this year.
Nutritionist Kate Cook is concerned at the impact this will have on consumers’ ability to make good overall choices for their dietary health. This in turn could affect the popularity and sales of key lines for the food and retail sector. She explains the problem: “While some high calorie foods are empty of nutritional value, others have significant benefits in the daily diet. And conversely, some low calorie foods don’t deliver all that they promise. For example, salmon is high in fat but contains vital omega 3 and protein. In a regime where only calories count, it ranks alongside low quality junk food, potentially being rejected as 'unhealthy'. Conversely, some 'diet' range sandwiches are very low in calories but encourage unstable blood sugar and don’t provide enough energy, leading to snacking and weight gain. A higher calorie alternative could be a better choice for sustainable weight loss.”
Kate Cook’s consultancy focuses on helping food retailers, manufacturers and restaurants convey a more balanced message about the nutritional value of their products. As well as analysing calorie information, she evaluates and explains the micro-nutrient and fat content. She says, “Brands need to communicate more helpful health and nutrition information to sustain customer confidence. This one-dimensional approach could pose new risks to the public’s health. There’s an opportunity for businesses across the food industry to provide more complete guidance that puts calorie labelling in context. Of course the challenge is doing so in a simple and authoritative way that customers will understand and act on to the overall benefit of their health.”
Kate Cook doesn’t dispute that the government health Responsibility Deal is a worthwhile initiative, with its broad aim of encouraging healthier lifestyles for the British public through a range of dietary and exercise measures. And she finds it easy to see why the government has chosen to focus on calorie counting. “Many consumers understand the measure because it’s been associated with popular diets and weight loss for decades. But consuming enough micronutrients and 'good' fats is also vitally important for good health. Without them, humans still suffer from conditions like scurvy and rickets which most of us assume have been consigned to the history books. Cases of both have recently been reported in the UK. And for weight loss, it’s so important to balance blood sugar throughout the day to avoid the peaks and troughs that lead to hunger pangs and bingeing, one of the main causes of obesity.”
Kate Cook recommends that retailers and brands develop and champion credible messages so customers can make informed choices about how to get all the macro- and micro-nutrients they need each day. To help your brands, individual products or meals to avoid losing share because of an incomplete picture of nutritional value, she suggests:
1. Provide relevant nutrition facts on packaging that help customers relate their choices to their lifestyle goals
2. Include micronutrient (vitamins and minerals) info as well as macronutrients (calories, protein, fat) on menu and product breakdowns and explain the benefits
3. Create nutritious menus for specific dietary needs, including weight loss, gluten or dairy free and mood boosting or high energy requirements
4. Develop consistent messages across all your PR, marketing, packaging and campaigns so your health headlines are always clear and focused
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About Kate Cook
Qualified personal and corporate nutritionist and author Kate Cook is director and founder of The Nutrition Coach. Her passion is making nutritional changes easy and accessible to consumers. She works with consumers and major food brands to promote healthy eating messages. Find out more at www.KateCook.biz or by calling 0845 050 2442.
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