The nutri-score: can healthy food be reliably labeled?

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From November we will see a new label on food, the Nutri-Score. Whether it really helps us eat healthier is debatable.

Jumping points of the article:


Article Section: This is what it’s all about:

This is what it’s all about:

We do not always recognize unhealthy food

One reason is unhealthy diet. But why do we not put our apparent health consciousness into practice?? Do we just not recognize healthier foods?

The answer is "yes". Of course, many people know that fruits and vegetables are healthier than chips. But how much sugar, fat, and other potentially harmful ingredients our food contains can be difficult to gauge, especially when it comes to complex foods like convenience foods. But it is precisely in this respect that seemingly similar products such as yogurts sometimes differ enormously.

More details about the article:

This is what the nutrition table shows

This problem is to be solved by so-called "front-of-pack" nutrition labels: Easy-to-understand labels that help make it easier for people to choose healthier products. The solution that will apply to Germany from November 2020 is the Nutri-Score.

Here’s how the Nutri-Score works

The basic principle is simple: good nutrients are offset against bad nutrients – a five-stage traffic light from green to yellow to red shows shoppers in the supermarket whether a product is to be recommended or rather avoided.

In detail, it works like this: all the components of a processed food are evaluated individually and the product is given points for each one. So that the whole is comparable, the components are always related to 100 grams of food.

  • Points for the rather unfavorable ingredients High energy content, sugar, saturated fat and sodium Count positive – each component gets a score between zero and ten.
  • The points from more beneficial ingredients Protein, fiber and fruits, vegetables or nuts count negative – each component gets a score here from -5 to 0.

Somewhat confusingly, beneficial components get negative points and unfavorable ones get positive points. But the scales are simply laid out like this.

To determine the Nutri-Score now, the negative points are subtracted from the positive points. In the end, the product receives an overall score that can range from -15 to +40. This score is associated with a scale that divides the product into five Nutri-Score groups – from A to E, where A is the most recommended group and E is the group that is more discouraged. The more negative the score, the more positive the food is, so to speak.

The group in which the food is classified is then highlighted on the Nutri-Score label – so you can see at first glance which category it belongs to. In addition, the letters are marked by a color scheme from green to yellow to red – from a dark green A to a red E – to help with comprehension.

Here’s what the scales look like for foods and beverages. The latter is slightly stricter.

Further information about the article:

This is how the Nutri-Score is calculated

First, let’s look at the w less recommendable components at. Here, the pudding has a much higher score of "negative points" :

For the recommended components the scoring scheme looks like this:

The points of the positive components are then subtracted from those of the negative components. This means the following final result for the two products:

Article section: this is why we need to talk about it:

That’s why we need to talk about it:

The Nutri-Score may label foods better than other labels

The advantages of the Nutri-Score at a glance

Scientists have already examined the Nutri-Score in detail and in many studies and have found its classification for the labeling of foods to be useful.

Advantage 1: The Nutri-Score can categorize foods well
Although it combines all parameters into a single score, the Nutri-Score can map well whether a food is rather recommendable or not recommendable for your health. This also works across different product groups. For example, confectionery tends to fall into categories C through E, while whole grains tend to land in the upper categories. The Nutri-Score thus correlates well with dietary recommendations.

Less processed foods, such as juice or oil, are graded fairly consistently by the label. For more processed foods such as muesli, frozen pizza or yogurt, however, the classification varies quite a bit. This makes sense: while manufacturers add little fat, sugar or salt to some convenience foods, other products are very salty or fatty. This is then reflected in the Nutri-Score rating. The label can therefore differentiate quite well for complex products. This also makes it a good option for a possible uniform European label.

Advantage 2: The Nutri-Score is understandable and conspicuous
So the Nutri-Score can categorize foods well. But do people understand it at all? In many studies in European and non-European countries, researchers have compared different front-of-pack labels. They studied whether consumers see the labels, whether they understand them, and whether the labeling influences their consumption behavior. In virtually all studies, the Nutri-Score has performed the best. The label is conspicuous due to its color coding, people quickly notice it. It is also the easiest to understand because of its simple presentation. This is especially true for people who don’t know much about nutrition, they can quickly relate to the labeling. And: The label actually changes consumer behavior.

In contrast to the nutrition tables on the packages, consumers could draw more useful information for themselves from the Nutri-Score. And they still want it: in studies where they were asked about it, participants are clearly in favor of making a front-of-pack label mandatory.

In general, color-coded models always perform significantly better than those with only one or two colors. They stand out more and are more intuitively understandable. Overly detailed and complex labels contain more information, but are usually poorly understood and therefore not necessarily right for the general public. Since the labeling is intended to help people who are not very familiar with nutrition, this is a very significant plus point for the Nutri-Score.

Advantage 3: The Nutri-Score has already been tested in practice
The label has been in place in France since 2017. Because of the good experience in France, Belgium followed in 2019. In other European countries, such as Germany, Spain, the Netherlands, Portugal, Switzerland and Luxembourg, the introduction is currently being planned or implemented. The World Health Organization (WHO) and the European Commission also recommend the label. Throughout the EU, this type of labeling is voluntary.

Not yet clarified: What the Nutri-Score really does for health

For the countries that already use the Nutri-Score, there are no statistical data yet on whether the introduction of the label has also led to a reduction in diseases.

What we do know is that the Nutri-Score can help us improve our health through nutrition. In a large international study, researchers were able to show that there was a strong correlation of certain cancers with consumption of foods not recommended according to the Nutri-Score. Colorectal cancer, stomach cancer, lung cancer in men and liver and breast cancer in women were particularly conspicuous. In a Spanish study, food classification and mortality were also strongly correlated. Means: The Nutri-Score can warn us about foods that are harmful to health – for example, because they are suspected of causing cancer.

A French research team used modeling to venture a prediction of what the Nutri Score might actually mean for overall health: From previous data, they predicted that consumers would reduce their calorie intake by about nine percent and improve their diets in general. They estimate that the Nutri-Score will help prevent up to 3.4 percent of diseases caused by suboptimal nutrition each year. That would be over 7000 fewer deaths per year in France alone.

One thing is clear: the label helps people recognize, buy and eat healthier products. If we eat less recommendable products, we also demonstrably consume smaller portions. All this can help stay healthier.

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