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01/2019

Nutriscore, the nutritional indicator that appears on labels

The new label will show the levels of calories, fat, sugar and salt .

The preoccupation of what we eat has more and more impact on our purchases. This is why the Ministry of Health, Consumption and Social Wellbeing has announced that it is going to apply the Nutriscore system, a new nutritional label on food and drinks with a five colour and five letter logo. The objective is to standardise labels so that consumers can interpret them quickly and easily.

How does Nutriscore work?

It is a label that goes on the front of the product with a scale of five colour that goes from green (best nutritional qualities) to red. Those colours are associated with five letters (A, B, C, D and E) and a circle around one of them that indicates the nutritional quality of the food depending on its contents in sugar, saturated fats, salt, calories, fibre and proteins. Nutriscore attributes a colour depending on the nutritional composition for every 100 grammes of product. “If the food has an average nutritional quality, the yellow colour will increase in size, while for a fatty product, the red colour will increase in size”, explained the researcher in nutrition of the Paris 13 University, Pilar Galán. Pilar Galán's team have issued over thirty publications internationally regarding the way that consumers see Nutriscore, “This label allows the consumer to distinguish which food has the best nutritional quality”, she adds.

How should we use it?

Mostly, we shouldn't compare food. For example, we can’t compare the nutritional value of a dairy product with that of biscuits. “This isn't how it should be used, because we would compare foods that are completely different and that occupy different spaces in our diet”, warns Manuel Moñino, representative of the General Council of Official Institute of Dieticians and Nutritionists in the European Federation of Associations of Dieticians and member of the Spanish Nutrition and Dietetics Academy. Furthermore, Mr. Moñino indicates that the food categories depend on the “nature of the food, its level of processing, the presence of other ingredients, the level of nutrients, etc”. In Nutriscore, “The categories are very few: drinks, fats and oils, cheeses and the rest of the foods”, says Mr. Moñino. For example, in the cereals and derivates' group, we can compare various types of biscuits but we can't do it with a loaf of bread or toasted bread.

Inconvenient of Nutriscore

Experts are asking for an adaptation of the algorithm of Nutriscore to Spain because the alarm bells rang when a virgin olive oil was ranked in the D-orange category but chocolate flavoured cereals were in the C-yellow category. “There is a fear that instead of helping, this label may confuse people because it stigmatises some products against others”, indicates Primitivo Fernández, the director of the National Association of packaging Industries and Edible Oil Refineries.

Control of less healthy foods

Even with a completely green basket, it isn't the panacea. The system must work with other health politics, “The nutritional education must become compulsory from a very young age, the regulation of the exposure to food with low nutritional value in social, hospital or school catering. Access to healthy food should be made easier and advertising on processed foods for children should be reduced. The price of some foods should be increased by taxes and the price should be lowered on others”, indicated Mr. Moñino. In fact, this new label aims at bringing awareness to the population about what food they eat every day.

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