Analysis

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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Hooray – I’m FIR compliant…so now what?

You’ve got nutrition information on your product labels, so that’s it – job done and you are fully FIR compliant now….right?

Well, yes and no!recipe-on-table

Whether you have had your nutrition information calculated or analysed, it is only going to be valid for the recipe as it was at the time of the analysis.  If in the future you decide to tweak the recipe, change the way it is processed or launch new products, then you have to make sure you have the nutrition information updated and incorporated on the pack or label before you even begin selling the product.

Even if you never ever change the recipe, nutrient contents of raw materials can change over time so it’s good practice to review your nutrition declaration approximately every 2 to 3 years.  You may need to do this more frequently if you are using a lot of ingredients that have sub-recipes of their own, as your suppliers may also make improvements or changes to their products. Make sure you keep up-to-date specifications or information about all your raw materials so that you are aware if there are any changes that will impact upon your ingredients, allergen and nutrition labels.

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Is nutrition information here to stay? What about Brexit?

The idea that following Britain’s decision to leave the EU means that we no longer have to follow EU law is a myth I’m afraid.  A spokesperson from the Chartered Trading Standards Institute had said that any changes in food regulation wouldn’t come into effect until at least two years from now so in the meantime the current EU food regulations still stand.  The government has even stated that following Brexit there will be greater flexibility for front-of-pack nutrition information, as currently under EU law, it is only voluntary so, it certainly looks like it is here to stay!

If you have now found yourself in the unfortunate position that the 13 December deadline has passed and you have not implemented the new rules on nutrition labelling yet, make sure you take action as soon as possible.  AB food nutrition specialises in recipe analysis & nutritional labelling advice, and our confidential, personalised yet cost-effective nutrition labelling solutions make us the ideal partner for a food business of any size.

Contact Anne for further details.

Read my earlier blog for a quick reminder of what you should be doing to comply with regulationsxmas

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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