According to a new study done by University Of North Carolina and Duke Univercity at Chapel Hill in the US, it states that no-fat or no-sugar, low-fat or reduced-salt on food packaging may give consumers a sense of confidence before they purchase, but these claims rarely reflect the actual nutritional quality of the food.
“For overall packaged foods and beverages, purchases featuring a low- or no-nutrients claim do not necessarily offer better overall nutritional profiles. This is likely due in part to ‘low’ or ‘reduced’ claims being relative within brands or specific food categories,” blasted Dr Lindsey Smith Taillie from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, who led the study.
The study published in the Journal of Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
The findings of the study indicated that 13 percent of food and 35 percent of beverage purchases had a low-content claim (including no, free, low or reduced) and that low-fat was the most common claim, followed by low-calorie, low-sugar and low-sodium.
“In many cases, foods containing low-sugar, low-fat or low-salt claims had a worse nutritional profile than those without claims,” said Taillie. “In fact, in some cases, products that tend to be high in calories, sodium, sugar or fat may be more likely to have low- or no-content claims,” Taillie added. Essentially, reduced claims are confusing because they are relative and only about one nutrient, said Taillie.
Researchers analyzed 80 million grocery store purchases in over 40,000 U.S. households between 2008 and 2012. Despite the products having lower sugar/fat/sodium content, it was found they did not always have the best nutritional value.
A low-fat brownie could have three grams of fat per 40 grams, whereas a low-fat cheesecake would have to have three grams of fat per 125 grams. So, if a consumer were trying to find a lower-fat option for a dessert, the low-fat brownie would have relatively higher fat than the low-fat cheesecake, the study added.
It was also noted that low claims mean different things for different foods. “This could potentially lead to confusion if consumers focus on seeking out products with specific nutrient claims or use a claim to justify the purchase of less-healthy foods,” Dr. Taillie explained. “In fact, these results suggest (but are not conclusive) that in some cases, products that tend to be high in calories, sodium, sugar, or fat actually may be more likely to have low-/no-content claims.”
The study also found that there was also a connection between the socio-economic status and food purchases and the high-and middle-income level households were more likely to purchase food and beverages with low-content claims.
Consumers need to read the whole nutrition label carefully to know if they’re selecting the most nutritious foods. Read the specific nutrient content per serving on the back of the package label and not only the general “lower in” guide on the front.