Don’t be fooled by low sugar food packaging claims

17 March 2017

When perusing the supermarket aisles while on a diet it’s easy to pick out food choices that are low calorie, low sugar and low fat, thanks to labels handily stating the nutrient content.

However, a new study has slammed such labels as misleading, and claims they give consumers a false sense of how healthy the food is.

“For overall packaged foods and beverages, purchases featuring a low- or no-nutrients claim do not necessarily offer better overall nutritional profiles,” blasted Dr Lindsey Smith Taillie from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, who led the study.

“This is likely due in part to ‘low’ or ‘reduced’ claims being relative within brands or specific food categories.”

Researchers from the University of North Carolina and Duke University analysed 80 million grocery store purchases in over 40,000 U.S. households between 2008 and 2012. It was found that that 13 per cent of food and 35 per cent of beverage purchases boasted a low-content claim, with low fat the most common claim. Low calorie, low sugar and low sodium followed.

Read more: Low-fat WON’T help you lose weight

Despite the products having lower sugar/fat/sodium content, it was found they did not always have the best nutritional value.

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."

Results have been published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

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Read more: Low-fat vs. low-carb diets

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