The first thing that you must do when buying stuff from the supermarket is to read the nutrition labels and read them carefully. This is the only source of information that consumers have to fall back on when it comes to packaged foods. But, what if the nutrition label is misleading? That’s the big question, a new study conducted by researchers from the University of Copenhagen in Denmark brings to the limelight. According to them, the health effects of a particular food product should not be assessed on the basis of the individual protein, fat and fibre content and instead it should be evaluated keeping in mind the product might be eaten with another food item at the same time and that may alter the benefits derived from both of them.
Researchers reason that the composition of a particular food item can alter the properties of the nutrients it contains in a way that cannot be predicted just by analyzing the individual nutrients. For instance, yogurt and cheese offer different health benefits and can be more beneficial for the bone health, body weight and the risk of developing cardiovascular diseases than one would expect taking into account their individual saturated fat and calcium content.
The first author of the study Tanja Kongerslev Thorning explains that when we eat, we do not consume individual nutrients, we eat the whole food – either alone or together with other foods in a meal. Due to this, the various nutrients in different foods interact with each other and can have a significant overall effect on your health. Therefore, it is important to assess these products in relation to others.
Mr. Thorning gives another example of almonds that contain a lot of fat but they release less fat than expected during digestion especially if you chew them really well. According to the researchers, the effect on your health of a food item is probably a combination of the relationship between its nutrients and also the methods used in its preparation or production. This means that some foods can be better for us or even turn out to be less healthy than what we currently believe. The team also held several discussions about dairy products and how the complex mixture of nutrients and bioactive compounds they contain can affect your digestion and change the overall health properties of the food item.
The expert panel behind these conclusions consists of 18 experts in epidemiology, food, nutrition and medical science. The findings appeared in journal of Clinical Nutrition. Another thing, most health experts agree on, is the serving size that can really confuse the consumers and in some cases even make them overeat. The nutrition value of every product is usually based on a 100 gram serving but the particular item may contain much more than it. So, it is important to find out the correct portion size of the item and multiply the quantities to get the actual numbers. Similarly, most calorie-conscious people will unknowingly grab the yoghurt with the low-fat label, but the same yoghurt could be low in fat, but very high in calories that actually comes from extra sugar added to it.
So, as you can see food labelling is a dodgy area that needs to become more transparent because clearly, they haven’t been as effective as they could be. Bigger font sizes, stricter rules about health claims, stating the actual calorific values per serving, order of ingredients as per their quantities, all these must be kept in mind along with the latest we know about food, health and nutrition. Therefore, there is an urgent need to overhaul the current labelling system.