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.
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 Annefor further information about our nutrition and labelling services.
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.