There is a plethora of software options and subscriptions available for businesses to calculate the nutrient contents of their recipes – but as with anything, the accuracy of the data output is only going to be as good as the information going in!
I first wrote about this in 2016 and the importance of using professionally trained experts, but in recent months it has become apparent when talking with several food business owners, that small/medium sized operators are increasingly starting to calculate their nutrition information themselves. With this in mind, now seemed a good time to revisit and discuss the benefits & pitfalls of calculating the nutrition contents of foods and drinks.
AB Food Nutrition has many years of experience calculating the nutrient composition of recipes for labels, menu boards and magazines. Using your product recipe we can take the hassle out of nutrition labelling compliance whilst providing an inexpensive, confidential and personal service to your business. Contact Anne for details.
Imagine this: It’s a Saturday morning and I’ve lovingly made a nutritious breakfast of scrambled eggs on wholemeal toast for my daughter before she heads off out to play in a footy match. I then put away and clean up everything ready for my two friends Amanda and Tania, who are joining me for brunch. Now, my friend Amanda is vegan and so I have opted to make us all a vegan fry-up of hash browns, mushrooms, tomatoes, scrambled tofu and baked beans.
I then remember that Tania has severe egg and milk allergies so although she can still enjoy my vegan fry-up – how do I know that absolutely all traces of egg and milk have been removed from my kitchen since I made my daughters scrambled egg this morning?? The answer is…I don’t!
And there you have it! Now, as the Vegan Society explains “Products suitable for vegans may not be suitable for people with allergies. Vegans avoid exploitation of non-human animals, whereas people with allergies need products that do not contain the allergens that affect them. These are separate issues.”
Just in the same way that companies assess whether their products may contain major allergens I had to decide whether I thought Tania would be safe eating my vegan fry-up in the same kitchen where I had previously made scrambled eggs. If there is a risk, the label carries a ‘may also contain’ warning.
So why did M&S come under so much fire with the launch of their new plant kitchen range?
The Vegan Society states it is “not against foods labelled as vegan also carrying a ‘may contain warning about animal allergens”, and an M&S spokesperson quite rightly pointed out that “vegan products may not be suitable for people with severe allergies because allergens may be present in the environment in which they are made. This is clearly flagged on the packaging as a steer to those who need it.” However, many disagree and feel that it is misleading to state something is vegan whilst also stating that it may contain small amounts of dairy products.
The food industry must adhere to strict rules concerning allergen labelling, which is heavily regulated, yet the term ‘vegan’ is only used by industry voluntarily so, how can it be used accurately when no legal definition exists? (Note: the EU Commission announced it would begin the process to establish a legal definition this year, but this will not automatically apply to the UK post-Brexit). In the meantime, there needs to be more education for consumers to understand that “vegan” does not automatically mean “free from” and as always, it pays to read the label every time!
AB Food Nutrition works with manufacturers and caterers to provide allergen information to consumers on labels, menus and websites. We can work with you to implement procedures for updating and signing off allergen information. Contact Annefor further information about our cost-effective consultancy services.
Last week it was featured in the news, a report identifying the UK’s unhealthiest high streets. High streets were ranked by the Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) according to the numbers of payday lenders, bookmakers, tanning salons and fast food outlets. There was a clear link between deprived areas and unhealthy high streets with Grimsby, Blackpool and Walsall topping the list in contrast to Edinburgh, Canterbury and Taunton which had the healthiest high streets.
In recent years there has been a proliferation of fast food outlets (FFOs) in the most deprived areas – but why is this an issue? To start with, there is plenty of evidence backing the link between the frequency of visiting FFOs and health outcomes such as weight gain, insulin resistance and high blood pressure.1 A recent study added further weight to this evidence by finding an association between FFO exposure, fast food consumption and obesity.2 These associations are hardly surprising given that fast food tends to be energy-dense, high in salt and served in large portion sizes.
Despite the reputation though, we have all had fast foods in our time and as the old saying goes ‘everything in moderation!’ I was quoted in an article a couple of years ago suggesting ways to make healthier choices when ordering your favourite takeaway:
Switching creamy curries to tomato-based dishes such as tandoori and madras
Opt for steamed dishes rather than fried foods
Choose diet/sugar free soft drinks instead of regular ones
Public Health England also announced in March 2018 a challenge for the whole food industry to reduce calories in foods (most commonly eaten by children) by 20% by 2024. The introduction of the sugar levy has resulted in widespread reformulation amongst high profile soft drinks manufacturers resulting in commercially successful lower-sugar options.
The government is currently consulting on plans to make the display of calorie information mandatory in out-of-home food and drink outlets because some research suggests that this is effective in reducing overall calorie intake. (Read my previous blog about this).
But what can you start to do today in order to provide healthier options? Now, I‘m not saying take chips off the menu – but you can make small changes to top-selling items to make a big impact! Look at ways you can modify your existing recipes by the types and amounts of ingredients used and also in the way you cook and prepare the dishes. Here are some of my top tips:
Reduce calories by switching from double to single cream
Use thick cut chips or wedges in preference to thin cut fries
Use rapeseed oil for frying and remember to drain food well by giving it a good bang and shake
Dry fry meats where possible after trimming away visible fat
Try to include more vegetables into dishes and use seasonal, frozen or canned to keep costs down
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 find ways to make existing dishes healthier and provide support in complying with the law if you want to make nutrition claims. Contact Annefor further information about our cost-effective nutrition and labelling services.
2 Burgoine, T., Sarkar, C., Webster, C.J., Monsivais, P., 2018. Examining the interaction of fast-food outlet exposure and income on diet and obesity: evidence from 51,361 Biobank participants, , International Journal of Behavioural Nutrition and Physical Activity, 15(1):71 doi: 10.1186/s12966-018-0699-8.
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 home2 and 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.
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.