Is sugar really hidden?

With all the headlines and TV shows around at the moment focussing on sugar and how we are consuming too much, one phrase I hear regularly is “hidden sugars” and how our food is “full of it”!

Having been involved in writing the information that must be shown on labels (otherwise known as pack copy) since my first job in the food industry some 18 years ago, this phrase really makes me sigh. By law all ingredients must be labelled – and that includes anything added that is deemed to be sugars, so it most definitely cannot be “hidden”.

Not only that, but one of the fundamentals of food labelling is that it “must not be misleading”, and I have been fortunate over the years to work with teams of labelling technologists who share my passion in making sure labelling is done with the consumer in mind. I can recall many hours deliberating over aspects of labelling information with such individuals, and then we still have to keep the marketeers in check to make sure they don’t get carried away with what I affectionately call “marketing fluff”! So, is it any wonder why we get upset when the media accuse the food industry of misleading and hiding things?

It seems that there is an overall lack of understanding amongst consumers as to what is actually classed as ‘free sugars’. As always, education plays a huge part because you can put all the information possible on a food pack, but it is useless if it is ignored or not understood.

The official definition of free sugars is, all monosaccharides and disaccharides added to foods by the manufacturer, cook or consumer, plus sugars naturally present in honey, syrups and unsweetened fruit juices. Under this definition lactose, when naturally present in milk and milk products is excluded.

So how do we educate consumers to enable them to choose foods ain order to meet the new dietary recommendation – of which free sugars should not exceed 5% (population average) of total dietary energy?

Firstly, consumers need to understand which foods generally contribute the most free sugars in the diet – so that they can choose to limit or reduce the amount and frequency by which they consume them. These foods include chocolate and sweets, cakes and biscuits and of course sugar-sweetened drinks.

Secondly, they need to understand the names of different types of free sugars so they can look out for them in the ingredients list on pack, and because the order is in descending order by weight, if a type of sugar appears near the beginning of the ingredients list, the product is likely to have more free sugars than one in which any sugars are at the end. Some common names for those added to foods are sucrose, glucose, molasses, dextrose, honey, invert sugar, treacle, glucose syrup and maltose.

There has also been a lot of discussion lately about how we can improve the labelling of free sugars to make it easier for consumers to meet the new maximum sugar intake recommendations. Currently, under EU law, sugar labelling shows the total sugar content – this includes both the free sugars and naturally occurring sugars, and from December it will be mandatory to include this information on the back of most packaged foods and drinks. The UK Government has also confirmed that it will introduce clearer visual labelling (such as teaspoons of sugar) to show consumers about the sugar content in packaged food and drink – though this will be voluntary. The government has even indicated that Brexit will provide “greater flexibility” in relation to front-of-pack nutrition information.

So, in the meantime, I urge everyone to use the information on pack that labelling experts like me have worked so hard to provide. If you need some inspiration to help you cut back on those free sugars how about making some of these little changes to your diet:

Use fruit such as raisins, dried apricots, dates or bananas instead of sugar, which naturally add sweetness to breakfast cereals and plain yogurt.

Sweet-tasting, spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and ginger are a great way of adding flavour when preparing foods at home.

Try just a thin layer of jam or marmalade on wholegrain toast.

Swap sugar-sweetened beverages to sugar free drinks or better still water, tea or coffee (without adding sugar!).

 

Breaking News: UK definition on ‘small quantities and ‘local’ for nutrition labelling

On 13 December 2014, new rules set out in Regulation (EU) No. 1169/2011 on the provision of food information to the consumer (FIC) became applicable. The provision of nutrition information on a mandatory basis for prepacked foods was introduced in this regulation, however in order to give food businesses time to prepare, the date of application was set at 13 December 2016.

Annex V of this regulation provides a list of foods that are exempt from mandatory nutritional labelling. Included in this list is ‘food, including handcrafted food, directly supplied by the manufacturer of small quantities of products to the final consumer or to local retail establishments directly supplying the final consumer.’

The FIC does not define ‘local’ nor ‘small quantities’ in the exemption. The Commission has said that the interpretation of the exemption is left to individual Member States.

The Department of Health consulted on the issue with key stakeholders from the end of last year / early this year, and I have just received confirmation direct from the Department of Health on the final decision:

The EU definition of a micro-business will be used to define ‘small quantities’, which is

  • a business with less than 10 (full time equivalent) employees
  • turnover/balance sheet total of £1.4 million (the equivalent of €2m).

 

Local retail establishments’ means  ‘sales within the supplying establishment’s own county plus the greater of either the neighbouring county or counties, or 30 miles/50 kilometres from the boundary of the supplying establishment’s county’.

The Department of Health have updated the technical guidance to reflect this interpretation.  The guidance is available here.

Here is a link to a useful Q&A document from the Food Standards Agency.

However, it is important to note that where a permitted nutrition or health claim appears on the labelling, presentation or advertising, nutrition labelling then becomes compulsory (Regulation (EU) No. 1924/2006 lastly amended by Regulation (EU) No. 1047/2012).

If you believe you may be exempt from mandatory nutrition labelling, it is advised you seek advice from your local enforcement authority.

If you do need to apply back of pack nutrition labelling – but have not yet put plans in place, please contact Anne to discuss your requirements and to obtain a competitive quote.

Six months to Christmas… and mandatory nutrition labelling!

christmas decoration

So, with just six months until Christmas – time to start planning your marketing, events and orders …oh… and don’t forget – your mandatory nutrition labelling!

That’s right – the Food Information Regulation (FIR) deadline will be here before you know it. 13th December 2016 to be exact! But, more importantly, you still have time to do something about it if you haven’t already put plans or resources in place to update your labels.

 

So then, a quick reminder of what is required. From 13 December 2016, it will be mandatory to provide “back of pack” nutrition labelling for prepacked food, subject to certain exemptions contained in Annex V of EU Regulation 1169/2011. These exemptions relate mainly to minimally processed foods and those with little nutritional value. (This does not apply to food supplements, natural mineral waters or PARNUTS because these fall under the scope of other Directives with their own nutrition labelling provisions).

You can read more detail on the requirements and presentation of this information in my previous blog post.

But don’t forget, if you offer food for sale via a website, telephone orders or similar, the mandatory nutrition information must also be made available before the purchase is concluded.   The rules for mandatory nutrition labelling also apply if you supply prepacked food to mass caterers for further preparation.

So why, you may ask, have these rules become law?

The prime reason is to enable consumers to make informed choices about the foods they use to suit their dietary needs. The 2007 White Paper “A Strategy for Europe on Nutrition, Overweight and Obesity related health issues”, stressed the need for consumers to have access to clear, consistent and evidence-based information. Having nutrition information provided on packs assists with public health policies concerning nutrition education. Additionally, it’s presence on all products means it will be relevant for all shoppers in every price and product category.

How can I get the nutrient values for my products?

There are basically two options, you can send samples of your finished products to a laboratory for analysis, or the average values can be calculated using known values of the ingredients used and/or generally established & accepted data (such as McCance & Widdowsons 7th Edition).

AB Food Nutrition offers a cost effective, confidential and personal calculation service (contact anne@abfoodnutrition.co.uk for further information and quotes).

It’s important to remember though, that if you regularly make changes to your products the nutrition information will most likely be impacted and so another nutrition analysis or calculation will be required – something to consider when choosing which method you want to use versus overall costs. Additionally, any new products developed after the December deadline will need to have the nutrition information included on the label before you can launch it.

BNF Healthy Eating Week in the Workplace 2016

The British Nutrition Foundation is running another Healthy Eating Week between 13 – 17 June. The purpose is to provide a dedicated week in the year where UK workers and school children can simultaneously focus on healthy eating and drinking, and physical activity, in order to encourage healthy living.

Promoting health in the workplace is not only beneficial to employees but also to employers.

Healthy Eating Week Logo Welsh

You can sign your workplace up for free and download the guide to help you plan and organise your Week and provide ideas to meet the Week’s five challenges (Have breakfast; Have 5 A DAY; Drink plenty; Get active; Try something new).

If you are interested in hosting Healthy Eating Week in your workplace and need some consultancy advice or assistance with your planning, contact Anne at AB Food Nutrition (anne@abfoodnutrition.co.uk). Here are just a few ideas we could help you with:

  • which foods & drinks to include in a healthy breakfast for a morning meeting
  • provide recipes for healthy breakfast ideas that you can email to employees
  • 5-a-day portion guides and tips to include more veggies in meals
  • work with your staff canteen to offer healthier meals and snacks
  • recipe analysis to provide calories for menus

 

Why it’s a good idea to use professionally trained nutrition experts…

Nutrition labelling must be accurate. Displaying the nutrition information on back of pack is governed by strict food labelling legislation, and the most important rule of food labelling is that the consumer must not be misled. The calculation of nutrient content is very cost effective compared to laboratory analysis (which is approx. 3 times more expensive) – but this can be a difficult task for smaller food businesses that have little or no nutrition and food composition expertise. There are lots of calculation software packages available but the use of these are limited by the need to accurately match ingredients to available food composition data and take account of nutrient changes during production.

Working with technical experts, such as Registered Nutritionists and Dietitians will add credibility to your business. Such experts are professionally trained to calculate and validate comprehensive nutritional analysis based on McCance & Widdowson food and nutrient composition tables. We can also advise on relevant changes to recipes to improve the nutritional profile if required, particularly if you want to make nutrition or health claims. Nutritionists registered with the Association for Nutrition (AfN) work under a strict code of Ethics and Statement of Professional Conduct – absolute confidentiality is guaranteed.

Registered Nutritionists have demonstrated knowledge including a BSc (Hons) or MSc in a nutritional science; applied skills in relation to nutrition and competence to advise on nutrition. They are required to keep up to date through Continuing Professional Development.

Outsourcing your recipe analysis can give you peace of mind particularly if you are juggling lots of work under a tight deadline and you need to focus on creating brilliant products rather than the technicalities of the food labels. Calculated recipe analysis is anything but a simple exercise of addition. To maximise accuracy, the nutrient information for exact amounts of specific ingredients needs to be adjusted for any preparation or cooking technique — an undertaking that requires an in-depth knowledge of food and nutrition. It’s worth noting that any recipe analysis won’t be exact, average values allow for natural variability of foodstuffs as well as seasonal variability, however, it’s important that the actual nutrient content of foods should not deviate too substantially from the labelled values. Hiring an expert to analyse your recipes costs money, but the cost of not doing it right can be exponentially higher.

With a 17+ years food industry and retail background, AB Food Nutrition has many years of experience calculating the nutrient composition of recipes for labels, menu boards and magazines. From just your product recipe we can take the hassle out of nutrition labelling compliance whilst providing an inexpensive, confidential and personal service to your business.

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