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Nutritional Facts & Labels… The Truth Behind Nutritional Health Claims

 

Do you find yourself purchasing food items labelled “low calorie” or “low fat” in the hopes that they may be more nutritious or healthier for you? Well, you may be correct and you may also be incorrect.

A study by the University of KwaZulu-Natal, undertaken to determine the accuracy of the health and nutrition claims of ready-to-eat snack food products, found that although many ready-to-eat snacks were compliant with the current legislation, 25.3% of labelled nutrient content claims were non-compliant with the South African Food Labelling Regulations R146 legislation, with 68.8% of food items displaying a higher total energy content and only 23.7% of products in the study being eligible to make health or nutritional claims in line with the upcoming R429 legislation.

This begs the question, how accurate are our food labels? If you have questions about today’s food labels, you are not alone. So what can actually help us choose healthier foods?

MAKING INFORMED CHOICES

Governments and consumer organisations around the world see providing transparent and fact-based nutrition information as the key to helping consumers make better food choices. In response to the industry’s compliance with current legislation, Unilever has taken measures to ensure its products are accurately and properly labelled, advertised and communicated. The aim is to ensure that claims are: transparent, truthful, not misleading and meaningful to help consumers make informed choices.

Accurate health claims are essential in building consumer trust. That’s why we, at Unilever have taken a global position for making nutrition and health claims on our foods and refreshments. The intention of our claims is to provide people with product nutrition information to help them make healthier choices. This applies to health claims made on-pack and through other marketing channels.

We believe that simplified nutritional labelling is the key to helping consumers make improved food choices. To achieve this, we abide by the following golden rules:

  • We ensure all our products provide nutritional information in line with our nutrition labelling commitment.
  • We accurately display allergen information.
  • We ensure our front-of-pack labels help consumers identify the healthier choices and stimulate the industry to reformulate.

Our key principles for FOP labelling schemes include:

  • Showing good differentiation within a product group – to help consumers identify the healthier variant of a product, such as the mayonnaise with lower fat and calories. A light mayonnaise will have a better score than a full-fat version. Product reformulation is also rewarded with a better score.
  • Promoting foods that meet dietary guidelines/ideal portion sizes. For example, small portions of unsalted nuts or olive oil has a positive score while larger portions are discouraged.
  • Focussing on nutrients of concern – scoring based on the levels of fat, saturated fat, salt, sugar and calories in a food product. Scoring for positive nutrients, like fibre or protein, can be possible, but the level of nutrients of concern should prevail in the scoring. For example, a sweet candy (high in sugar) fortified with vitamin C cannot have a positive score.
  • Encouraging behaviour change – using front-of-pack labelling to encourage the consumer to choose the better option.

With the growing need for government and the food industries to try and catch up with international efforts to ensure that what consumers see on food labels is in line with what they get, Unilever’s dual approach complements industry compliance by promoting nutritious diets, using the reach and power of their brands to empower people to make responsible food and refreshment choices, and to adopt healthier habits.

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Reference:

Bursey, A.S., Wiles, N.L. and Biggs, C. (2019). The nutrient quality and labelling of ready-to-eat snack foods with health and/or nutrition claims. South African Journal of Clinical Nutrition, DOI: 10.1080/16070658.2019.1682242.