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.
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.
Being a registered nutritionist who has a specialism in food labelling, I just can’t help myself checking out the food information on packaging when I am out and about in supermarkets, convenience stores or farm shops (by the way – I’m not alone on this!!). Sadly, I do see lots of mistakes – particularly when it comes to nutrition claims, and this isn’t always restricted to what is on the label as I see mistakes in other commercial publications such as websites, and advertisements but also increasingly on social media posts. Claims are even popping up on fast food & catering menus that drop through the door such as ‘low fat’, ‘superfood’ or ‘healthy option’!
Quite often these nutrition claims pop-up in a very general statement or within a product description – and if the authors didn’t think they were actually making a claim that must comply with regulations, then I should point out that ignorance is no defence!
The regulation EC no. 1924/2006 (as amended by EU reg no. 1047/2012) defines nutrition claims as:
stating, suggesting or implying that a food has a beneficial nutritional composition due to presence/absence/increased or reduced level of energy or a nutrient. Only nutrition claims listed in the annex to the regulation can be used if the specific criteria for that claim has been met.
And a heath claim as:
Stating, suggesting or implying that a relationship exists between a food/food category/constituents and health. So even saying “good for you” may also be a health claim! Only authorisedhealth claims can be used so long as products meet the conditions stated.
In a nutshell, it simply isn’t good enough to google information (other search engines are available!) about a food and then slap the nutritional/health benefits found all over labels, webpages and across your social media posts. Care needs to be taken to ensure that the nutrition information for your product is accurate in the first place so that you can check if any claims you want to make can be substantiated.
But that’s not all! One of the fundamentals of food labelling is that it must not be misleading so, the wording you can use must have the same meaning to the consumer as the claims listed in the annex or on the EU register. For example, saying a product “contains no fat” would be subject to the conditions for fat free. The same also goes for pictorial or symbolic representations. Medicinal claims that imply the food can prevent, treat or cure a human disease are a no go area – they are not permitted to be used on food!
And, if you want to make a comparative claim – this must be with foods of the same category so, for example you should not compare the calcium content of a yogurt with that of an orange! The key requirement is that the comparison helps consumers make informed choices. The comparison you choose should also be representative of the market, so making a reduced sugar claim on lemonade in comparison with the full sugar version in the range is permitted if the full sugar variant has similar sugar levels to other full sugar lemonades also available from competitors or brands.
There are additional statements required on the label (or presentation or advertising) of products that make health claims:
The importance of a varied & balanced diet and healthy lifestyle
Quantity/consumption pattern required to obtain the benefit
Statement to who should avoid using the food (if appropriate)
A warning if likely to present a health risk if consumed to excess
Every week the Advertising Standards Authority publish their weekly rulings, and for those companies who have been published for being in breach of the regulations/advertising codes, they generally remain on the website for five years!
The Department of Health have published detailed guidance and also a quick start guide containing a flowchart to help you decide whether you need to comply with the regulation. When done correctly and effectively, communicating the nutrition and health benefits of your products not only enables consumers to value them more, but can help them to make informed dietary choices too.
AB Food Nutrition specialises in carrying out nutrition analysis of products and recipes and assessing the criteria for any permitted nutrition / health claims. We can also review commercial communications including website copy for compliance with the regulations. For a competitive, personalised quotation contact Anne.
There has never been more of a focus or pressure on food manufacturers to reformulate products in a bid to improve the nutritional content of products. The good news is that UK shoppers don’t mind their favourite products being reformulated – just so long as they taste as good! So are you ready to rise to the challenge?
Whether this is reducing sugar, salt or saturated fat or even enriching foods with the nutrients that we need to consume more of – you might find the collection of case studies from the Institute of Grocery Distribution (IGD) a good source of inspiration and ideas. Here are some of the reformulation highlights:
ASDA reduced sugar in the base dough recipe of their donuts by 50% without any technical issues. They also reduced salt in sour cream & onion party bites by simply adding a crisp without added salt to the mix.
Premier Foods adopted a ‘health by stealth’ approach by making gradual changes to the sugar content of their popular Mr Kipling Viennese Whirls.
Reducing sugar by 33% and salt by 21% in Musgrave cooking sauces took Greencore 8 months to achieve by boosting the tomato and vegetable content. This required new ingredients to be sourced and new procedures creating. A similar approach was taken by Mars Food for Dolmio sauces.
It took 12 months for Tesco to reformulate honey & mustard chicken pasta due to technical issues with creating a lower fat dressing that doesn’t split when honey is an ingredient. Tesco also identified that mayonnaise and butter were common ingredients in sandwiches so they replaced this with a reduced fat mayonnaise and also removed the butter.
Dairy Crest worked for 2 years to produce a high quality lower fat mature cheese.
M&S enriched their loaves and rolls with fibre and used a type of yeast that produces vitamin D. Clear front of pack labelling was also a significant element as customers find positive messages more motivating.
Greggs launched a new ‘Balanced Choice’ range consisting of products <400 calories and with no red colour coded nutrients. They also reformulated some traditional favourites by replacing puff pastry with shortcrust and developing lower fat fillings.
Tesco reformulated trifles taking several years to achieve a multi-component nutrient reduction. This not only resulted in a healthier product, but the cream had a fresher & cleaner taste and organoleptic properties were improved at end of shelf life.
Sainsbury’s made a simple swap from whole milk to semi skimmed in drinks served from in store cafes resulting in significant reductions in both calories and fat. They also provide the nutritional compositionof their products on menu boards to help customers make informed choices.
Co-op worked collaboratively with one of their suppliers – Tulip, using a solution called IPOSOL in order to achieve a 30% reduction in salt in gammon.
Morrisons removed sugar from extruded breakfast cereals by replacing it with a bulking carbohydrate that did not increase calories. The ratio of cereal types was altered to boost fibre content and improve texture.
Another new resource that will be of particular interest if your are a catering manager or chef is the Nutrition guidefrom the British Hospitality Association. This go-to guide is full of useful information about how to provide healthier options and the legal obligations that must be complied with.
The guidance helps caterers to design healthier menus including those specifically aimed at children or for those with allergies. Packed with ideas on how to maximise the use of fruit and veg, purchasing tips, food preparation techniques to preserve nutrients and ways to remove/reduce/replace fat, saturated fat, sugar and salt, it even advises on ways to promote your new menu and ensure that you are making legally compliant nutrition and health claims.
Whilst the reasons for formulating products are varied it’s clear that consumers and external influences are big a stimulus for healthier reformulation.
AB Food Nutrition works with manufacturers to provide nutrient composition values of their products for labelling or 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 fat, sugar or salt including advice on which nutrition or health claims you can use in product marketing. Contact Anne for further information about our nutrition and labelling services.