Green For Go

By Dietitian, Juliette Kellow BSc RD

After months of research and discussion, the Food Standards Agency (FSA) has finally agreed on a ‘traffic light’ system for supermarkets and manufacturers to include on the front of food packaging to help their customers choose a healthier diet.

The scheme includes information for fat, saturates, sugar and salt and uses red, amber and green colour codes to indicate whether levels of these nutrients are high, medium or low, respectively. Just like traffic lights, green means go, amber means OK and red means stop and think before you eat too much of this. Information on the levels of nutrients per portion should also be given.

Currently, Sainsbury’s and Waitrose have introduced the colour codes on some of their products, with Asda following hot on their heels.

WLR says:

Unfortunately, this scheme is voluntary and manufacturers are not legally obliged to use it. This means the very products that need to be labelled – in other words, those that are high in fat, saturates, sugar and/or salt – are most likely to be the ones that fail to use it. After all, it’s unlikely many people would frequently buy a product that includes red ratings for most or all of the listed nutrients?

Furthermore, for the system to work effectively, it’s essential that supermarkets and manufacturers use the same criteria as detailed by the FSA to determine whether a nutrient receives a green, amber or red rating.

Unfortunately, there seem to be some initial teething problems with this – Waitrose are currently using different criteria from those recommended by the FSA to identify whether sugars receive a red or amber rating. Meanwhile, Sainsbury’s seem to be reluctant to reveal the criteria they are using, indicating that perhaps they might not be in line with the FSA’s recommendations.

In the meantime, there are no guidelines for including calories as part of the traffic light labelling. This is surprising considering overweight and obesity is such a major problem in the UK. Fortunately, Waitrose has chosen to include calorie information as part of the chart and Sainsbury’s has gone one step further and given calories a red, amber or green rating based on a typical portion size. This effectively means, for example, that 180 calories for a croissant might receive a red rating, but 180 calories for a ready meal might receive a green rating.

Ultimately, the colour coding system has the potential to be a useful tool for helping customers to quickly identify whether a product they are buying is healthy. However, it’s essential that all manufacturers and supermarkets use the same nutritional criteria and use the traffic light system on all their products – not just those that are likely to fair well. And finally, remember, if you’re trying to lose weight you’ll still need to work out the number of calories in a serving.

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Further Information

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