A nutritionists view of the new UK Traffic Light Food labelling system

traffic-lightThere has been a lot made in the press about a new food labelling system being introduced in the UK

Here are the details  www.nhs.uk/Livewell/Goodfood/Pages/food-labelling.aspx

What do I think?

It’s definitely a step forwards to make this information more accessible, however the information is on most packets already and it’s not something that if you’ve got a bit of nutrition savvy that you will probably be paying much attention to.

  1. You probably don’t tend to buy many packaged foods to begin with.
  2. Or you’ve got a pretty good idea of the typical contents of most packaged foods and if you do fancy something that you’ve not had before then you’ll take a quick look at the back of the package.

It’s not a surprise that Coke or Cadbury’s didn’t want to play and use the traffic light system on their products – a series of reds on every bar of chocolate or fizzy drink doesn’t look very good and isn’t going to help sales. Mind you a Diet Coke would probably be full of green lights. Low Fat, Low Sugar, Low Salt all green therefore it must be good for you then. I don’t think so.

For fizzy drinks I think a tax might work better.

How about a ban on trans fat?
Banning trans fats and taxing sugary drinks so they become too expensive would do more for the obesity problem than this traffic light system.

In terms of the selection of nutrients on the front of labels for the general person the traffic light system might work well.

For anyone who knows anything about nutrition – they’d know that salt isn’t inherently bad if you exercise regularly – fair enough if you eat crisps all day and pizza for dinner, then you need to lower your salt.

For people eating clean, lots of vegetables and low starchy carbs some salt is fine and in fact very low sodium levels or very high are both equally bad for health according to some studies (http://www.marksdailyapple.com/salt-what-is-it-good-for/#axzz2Wg4eHrqI) (http://chriskresser.com/specialreports/salt).

There’s a few ways the system could be improved.

e.g. Mentioning how much MSG a food stuff contains – so how addictive the food is for children (think Pringles) – they should make fast food restaurants comply with these regulations as well.

I also think we could handle the addition of ‘extra special foods’ like how much protein is in there and also does the food offer significant polyphenol protection (some hope for the chocolate providers then)!

So yes the new system will help people decide which food processed might be worse for them than another – but if you are eating non-processed foods and you’ve read a little about nutrition then it’s not of much use to you.

How about a government campaign ‘don’t drink calories’ full stop?
That could be a better way to educate the general public and improve the health of the nation.

About Matt Lovell

A sports nutritionist and brand ambassador for Kinetica Sports. Matt also runs his own elite performance based company called Perform and Function.

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