Will calorie counts on menus make us healthier?

Around two-thirds of adults in the UK are either overweight or obese – and this increases the risk of chronic health conditions including type 2 diabetes.  Nowadays, a significant proportion of the food people eat is consumed outside of the home.  People are also eating out more often – the UK population consumes more than 100 million takeaways and ready-made meals in a week1!  Evidence suggests that people dining out consume 200 more calories per day than when eating at homeand so it is clear that there needs to be a mechanism to reduce the amount people consume when eating out if current obesity rates are to be halted and reversed.

As part of the government’s childhood obesity plan for action, the whole food industry (restaurants, retailers and manufacturers) has been challenged to slash calories in foods by 20% by 2024 but this alone will not tackle the complex issue of obesity.  Interestingly, 79% of people agree that menus should include the number of calories in food and drinks3.  Although many businesses already provide nutritional information on their websites only a few provide calorie labelling at the point of choice.  The point of choice can include menu boards, printed menus, chalk boards or display tags. So, with this in mind, the government proposes to introduce legislation to mandate consistent calorie labelling in England for the out of home sector.

Calorie menu labelling has already been mandatory in Ireland for a couple of years. A study into the effect of this in a hospital staff/visitor canteen found that customers made healthier choices and fewer calories were purchased, particularly by males4.

Putting calories on your menus is a public health initiative that can even benefit your business.  A recent Diabetes UK poll found that 60% of people are more likely to spend their money in an eating establishment that provides traffic light labelling, and almost as many said they would be more likely to eat where there is calorie labelling on food menus/packaging5.

Displaying the amount of calories on food and drinks for sale however is a form of food labelling and the most important rule of food labelling is that the consumer must not be misled.  It is therefore important for food businesses to have clear procedures and methods in place to ensure that calorie information is kept accurate.  If ingredients in a menu item change, the calorie information should be updated as soon as possible.

Obtaining the calorie values for all your menu items might seem a daunting task at first, but with help from AB Food Nutrition this can be done quickly, easily and cost-effectively.  We calculate the nutrient profile of your recipes based on the ingredients, quantities and cooking methods used. We can even provide suggestions on how to improve the nutritional profile of your recipes so that you can offer customers healthier choices.  For more information, please contact Anne.

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1 https://www.cancerresearchuk.org/sites/default/files/a_weighty_issue.pdf
2 Nguyen and Powell. (2014). The impact of restaurant composition among US adults: effects on energy and nutrient intakes. Public Health Nutrition 17(11) 2445-52.
3 https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/calorie-reduction-the-scope-and-ambition-for-action
4 Calories on menus in Ireland – who’s counting? – Volume 74 Issue OCE4 – G.D. Ussher, S.E. Kielthy, K.A. Emerson, F.E. Douglas, O.C. Lyons, M.A.T. Flynn
5 https://www.diabetes.org.uk/about_us/news/poll-food-labels-influence-spending?utm_source=twitter&utm_medium=social-media&utm_campaign=foodupfront&utm_term=210518&utm_content=organic

Sugar Reduction Progress Report

Public Health England (PHE) published the first assessment of progress towards the government’s sugar reduction programme this week – the challenge of which was a 5% reduction in the first year compared to the 2015 baseline.

Across 8 of the 10 categories (excluding cakes & morning goods due to data collection limitations) retailers/manufacturers achieved a 2% reduction in total sugar and a 2% reduction in calories in products consumed on a single occasion.

Whilst this doesn’t meet the 5% ambition, it is recognised that there are more sugar reduction plans in the pipeline and also some changes took effect after the first year cut-off point.

 

There have been reductions in sugar across 5 categories; breakfast cereals, ice cream/lollies/sorbets, sweet spreads & sauces, sweet confectionery, yogurt & fromage frais

Yogurts & fromage frais, breakfast cereals, sweet spreads & sauces all met or exceeded the 5% sugar reduction ambition

Calories in products consumed on a single occasion have been reduced in 4 categories (Biscuits, chocolate confectionery, Ice cream/lollies/sorbet, yogurts & fromage frais) by reducing the portion size.

Sugar levels are generally the same across all sectors however for out of home sector, portion sizes likely to be consumed in one go are on average double those of retailers and manufacturers

 

The progress report shows that there is more work still to be done and organisations such as the British Dietetic Association have expressed initial disappointment at the lack of progress made.  Some manufacturers and retailers appear to have made very significant progress where others have made very little, if any!

Products not meeting the 5% target include biscuits, ice cream, confectionery and puddings which is no surprise, as sugar has functions in these foods other than just providing a sweet taste.  Finding alternatives that do not impact on texture or appearance will take time as new technologies are developed.

PHE has also published new guidelines for the drinks industry to reduce the amount of sugar children consume through juice and milk based drinks by mid-2021:

reduce sugar in juice based drinks (excluding single juice) by 5%

cap all juice based drinks (including blended juices, smoothies and single juices) likely to be consumed in one go to 150 calories

reduce sugar in milk (and milk substitutes) based drinks by 20% and cap products likely to be consumed in one go to 300 calories

 

The exemption of milk based drinks from the sugar levy will be reviewed by the treasury in 2020. Progress on drinks covered by the levy shows that in response, sugar has been reduced by 11% and calories per portion by 6%.  Data shows more drinks below the 5g/100g cut-off are being purchased.

As part of the wider reformulation programme. PHE have also announced:

Guidelines for foods included in the calorie reduction programme are to be published mid-2019

Progress towards the 2017 salt targets is to be assessed and published by end 2018, followed by consideration of the next stage of the programme

Product ranges targeted at babies & young children are to be considered

Engagement with the out of home sector to move forward with reformulation

The next progress report on sugar reduction is due spring 2019.  In the meantime, it is as important as ever that the industry continues to work on reducing sugar in top selling products by reformulating or reducing portion sizes.

AB Food Nutrition works with manufacturers to provide nutrient composition values of their products for labelling and also during product development or reformulation. We can work with you to assess the impact recipe changes will have on nutritional content as well as advising on ways to achieve a desired nutritional profile such as a 5% or 20% sugar reduction as well asa reduction in calories. Contact Anne for further information about our nutrition and labelling services.

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The calorie reduction programme

This week, Public Health England (PHE) published plans to cut excessive calorie intakes by challenging the food industry to reduce calories by 20% in categories that contribute significantly to children’s calorie intakes by 2024. The programme involves retailers, manufacturers and the out-of-home sector following on from work launched last year to reduce sugars.

Products covered include:

It does not cover foods included in the sugar reduction programme.

Reducing calories in these everyday foods will have the ability to benefit the whole population and it has been estimated that a 20% reduction in calories over five years could prevent 35,000 premature deaths, save the NHS £4.5 billion in healthcare costs over 25 years.

PHE will set specific product category guidance to be published mid-2019 (using sales weighted average approach to focus on top selling products), however businesses are encouraged to start work now to reduce calorie content of everyday foods.  The year ending August 2017 will be the baseline against which progress will be measured (first progress report March 2021).

Reformulation or reducing portion sizes will be the main focus for the food industry however shifting consumer purchasing towards lower calories options is an additional mechanism for action.

Alongside this work, PHE are launching the ‘Know your numbers’ campaign which provides a rule of thumb for the calories to eat at each main meal to help consumers be more aware of the calories they consume when eating out.

AB Food Nutrition works with manufacturers and caterers to provide nutrient composition values of their products for labelling & menu boards and also during product development or reformulation. We can work with you to assess the impact recipe changes will have on nutritional content as well as advising on ways to achieve a desired nutritional profile such as reducing calories, whilst advising on which permitted nutrition or health claims you can use in product marketing.  Contact Anne for further information about our nutrition and labelling services.

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So what can I really say about my traditional artisan products made with natural ingredients?

The marketing of food is essential for businesses to develop within the food industry however, they have the potential to mislead when used incorrectly.  It’s a particularly tough job for small businesses looking to find the best way to communicate the differences between their products and mainstream commercial foodstuffs.

When using marketing terms responsibly, food business operators need to be aware that there are general principles to be followed in the provision of food information to consumers:

Article 7 Regulation (EU) 1169/2011

  1. Food information shall not be misleading, particularly:

(a) as to the characteristics of the food and, in particular, as to its nature, identity, properties, composition, quantity, durability, country of origin or place of provenance, method of manufacture or production;

(b) by attributing to the food effects or properties which it does not possess;

(c) by suggesting that the food possesses special characteristics when in fact all similar foods possess such characteristics, in particular by specifically emphasising the presence or absence of certain ingredients and/or nutrients;

(d) by suggesting, by means of the appearance, the description or pictorial representations, the presence of a particular food or an ingredient, while in reality a component naturally present or an ingredient normally used in that food has been substituted with a different component or a different ingredient.

To assist with compliance however, you will be glad to know that there is some industry guidance available on the use of some certain and increasingly popular marketing terms!

 

ARTISAN

Should only be used to advertise foods that meet all of the following criteria:

  • The food is made in limited quantities* by skilled craftspeople*
  • The processing method is not fully mechanised and follows a traditional* method
  • The food is made in a micro-enterprise* at a single location
  • The characteristic ingredient(s)* used in the food are grown or produced locally*, where seasonally available and practical.

 

FARMHOUSE

To state that food originates from a farm, it must meet all of the following:

  • The food is made in a single location on a farm*
  • The food is made by a micro-enterprise*
  • The characteristic ingredient(s)* used in the food are grown or produced locally*

However, there are foods that have used the term ‘farmhouse’ for many years and are well understood by the consumer and so they may continue to be marketed this way even if they don’t meet all three criteria above eg. Bread with a split and rounded crust, coarse textured pâté and soup made with chunky vegetables.

The term ‘farmhouse’ would not be acceptable for fresh, pasteurised milk and cream however ‘farm fresh’ has been associated with these products for years and so can continue to be used.

 

TRADITIONAL

This implies that food is made to a time-honoured recipe or in a time-honoured way and so must comply with at least one of the following:

  • The food is made to an authentic recipe which can be proved to have existed without significant modification* for at least 30 years and/or
  • The food has been made using a method of preparation that has:
  • Existed for more than 30 years although automation and mechanisation of these methods is acceptable and,
  • Does not deviate substantially from the traditional food processing method associated with a certain type of food.

 

NATURAL

For single ingredient foods, the term can be used if the food* is formed by nature and is not significantly interfered with by man*, but also only if this would not be the case for other similar foods (such as processed or containing additives).

Compound foods by their very nature have been formed by man so cannot be ‘natural’ however, if different to other similar compound foods they may use the description ‘made with natural ingredients’ if:

  • The ingredients* are formed by nature and are not significantly interfered with by man*
  • The ingredients* and the final food are:
  1. Additive-free or
  2. Contain flavourings that are natural as defined in European law or
  3. Contain other food additives that are obtained from natural sources, e.g. plants, by appropriate physical processing (including distillation and solvent extraction) or traditional preparation processes.

You can see these sorts of claims on the recently launched nitrite free bacon or hams.

Dairy products have for many years included ‘natural’ in their product name to indicate they are only made from milk using starter cultures necessary for fermentation but are free from other additives, flavourings and colours eg. Natural yogurt.

 

* further information on these definitions can be found in the FSAI Guidance Note 29 and also FSA Criteria for the use of terms fresh, pure, natural etc..

 

Food Labelling can be difficult and stressful when working to tight deadlines as it often involves being aware of the minefield of legislation and codes of practice to understand which your product labels must comply with.  AB Food Nutrition has the knowledge and experience to help you label your foods legally whilst exceeding your expectations with our friendly, reliable and cost-effective solutions.  Contact Anne for further details.

What does Brexit mean for nutrition labelling?

This is one burning question I have been asked several times – and one I have even wondered about myself, so having recently listened to a podcast on this topic with a senior European food law analyst (Peter Rixon, IEG Policy), I thought a short blog about this would be useful!

The general understanding is that in the short term there will not be any radical changes. Current EU regulations will continue to apply, including the most recent introduction of mandatory back of pack nutrition labelling. The UK actually helped to steer changes to EU food law that we now adhere to through the Food Information Regulation and it appears that negotiating trade agreements is the priority post Brexit!

 

However, looking at aspects of labelling such as front of pack traffic light nutrition – which is currently voluntary in the UK and has proven to be very successful despite not being popular with Italy (who put pressure on the EU Commission to take legal action against the UK as it is thought to discriminate against some of their products). France have recently launched a colour coding scheme indicating that this sort of labelling is likely to become more popular and that Brexit is not going to put a stop to it. There are also increasing pressures from non-governmental organisations (NGOs) for traffic light labelling to become mandatory and for the same scheme to be applied correctly.

And what about health and nutrition claims? EU regulations govern these and it is the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) who is responsible for verifying them. It is thought that the UK will continue to apply the rules of the regulation with an opportunity to review them at a later date. There is an argument that the current rules prevent innovation and that deregulation could see advances in the functional food market. However, food businesses selling into the EU would still have to comply with the legislation.

So, in summary, it is envisaged that we are not likely to see the advances made in nutrition labelling becoming undone but instead, the UK has the opportunity to take the lead as there will be greater flexibility outside of EU regulation for us to do so. Whilst there will be the potential for change in the longer term, the emphasis post-Brexit will be on continuity and the avoidance of disruption.

AB Food Nutrition has many years of experience in food labelling and carrying out nutrition calculations for both mandatory back of pack nutrition labelling and voluntary front of pack multiple traffic light systems. Each project is handled with meticulous care to maximise accuracy whilst offering value for money and unparalleled customer support. For more information or to request a product recipe analysis contact Anne today.

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