May 9, 2021

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Should you ignore the food traffic lights?


You see it on food packages – the colors red, amber, and green that are meant to indicate whether the food in your basket is healthy or not.

Traffic light colors were introduced in 2013 by the Food Standards Agency, and are intended for levels of fat, saturated fat, sugar and salt.

The NHS website says that if there are a lot of greens on labels, you know right away that it is a healthier option.

“You can eat foods that contain the label or most of it amber most of the time,” while the red color on the label indicates that you should “try to eat it less often and in small quantities.”

Traffic visual nutritional information is provided for each average serving size and per 100g for food, or 100ml for drinks – simplified in percentage.

The colors of traffic lights were introduced in 2013 by the Food Standards Agency, whereby the colors of traffic lights were assigned to levels of fat, saturated fat, sugar and salt.

Foods give a “red light” to saturated fats if they contain more than 5 percent of saturated fat, and “amber” light between 1.6 and 5 percent; And “green” is 1.5 percent or less saturated fat.

For sugar, it is “red” if it makes up more than 22.5 percent of the food, “amber” between 5.1 and 22.5 percent, and “green” if it is 5 percent or less. As for salt, it is “red” if foods contain more than 1.5 percent salt, “amber” between 0.4 and 1.5 percent, and “green” if it is 0.3 percent or less.

However, the Department of Health and Welfare and the Food Standards Agency are consulting with manufacturers and the public to see if some of the other plans are better, in part because the labels haven’t translated into long-term health benefits.

Data from the Health Survey of England shows that since the system was introduced, levels of obesity have risen (62 per cent of adults are overweight or obese in 2013, compared to 64 per cent in 2019), and cases of high blood pressure have remained stable. , And the percentage of people with high cholesterol has decreased (from 48 percent to 43 percent) – overall, that’s not a strong endorsement.

“One criticism is that it only focuses on negative nutrients,” says nutritionist Helen Bond.

For example, some dairy products may contain the red color of saturated fat, but this ignores the good amounts of calcium and protein that they contain.

“And some products that are high in fructose may appear red when in fact they are a good source of nutrients like vitamin C and fiber.”

Here, with Helen Bond’s help, Good Health reveals some instances where the traffic light system gets it wrong …

Traffic light interpretation: Peanuts are high in fat and push this peanut butter into the red. Added salt and sugar turn these nutrients amber into peanut butter. Meanwhile, the jam has the green color of the fat and the salt, but the red color of the sugar.

Expert Verdict: Reds and amers shouldn’t stop you from eating peanut butter on toast – the combination of heart-healthy unsaturated fats, protein, and fiber in the fat makes it a more filling and nutritious choice than jam.

Just one tablespoon of peanut butter contains 1.1 grams of fiber (as in a small apple) and 3.8 grams of protein (roughly like half of a hard-boiled egg), while jam contains trace amounts of both. You can also get just a quarter of a teaspoon of sugar and less than 2 percent of the daily salt limit per tablespoon.

In comparison, a tablespoon of strawberry jam contains more than a quarter of the maximum daily sugar.

It also has little nutritional value to talk about, as strawberries go through a large amount of heat treatment, which affects the levels of vitamin C and antioxidants that you usually get in fruits.

And since there is almost no protein or fiber in jam, you may feel hungry sooner. Choosing peanut butter over jam will give you more calories – a golf ball sized serving (2 tablespoons) should be the maximum.

Traffic light interpretation: 20 percent of nuts, seeds, and coconut chips mean that muesli gets amber light signals for both fats and saturated fats, yet Frosties are green for both. The sugar contents are red either way, while Frosties also added salt, so the result is worse for these nutrients.

Expert Verdict: Nutritious nuts and seeds affect the traffic light system here – despite being amber for saturated fats and fats, the majority of the fats in muesli are healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats that help keep bad LDL cholesterol under control. Nuts and seeds also provide vitamins and minerals, including magnesium and iron for good energy levels, and vitamin E that helps protect cells from damage.

While both nibs contain about three teaspoons of sugar per bowl, the dried fruit sugar in muesli is not the “empty” type the most harmful (while added sugar is in Frosties).

The high level of fiber in the mixture helps slow the release of sugar into the bloodstream.

A bowl of muesli contains 4.4 grams of fiber (about 15% of your daily needs) and a bowl of Frosties only 0.6 grams.

Traffic light interpretation: Yogurt contains large amounts of naturally occurring sugars and fats, resulting in the same spectrum of red, amber, and green as nutrients as trifle.

Expert judgment: Foods with between 5.1 and 22.5 percent of sugar get an amber rating, and it doesn’t matter whether sugar is added or naturally occurring, as both matter.

The one and a half teaspoons of sugar in milk is naturally occurring from dairy products, which are not considered “sugar free” and do not harm teeth. But the trifle contains four teaspoons, most of which are the unhealthy “free” type added to sweeten desserts.

Both products contain similar amounts of saturated fat – more than a third of the daily limit per serving. But there is evidence that saturated fat is not very harmful when it comes from dairy products.

It’s thought that other beneficial ingredients in dairy products, including calcium, may mitigate potential unhealthy effects.

Calcium keeps muscles, nerves, and blood vessels working properly, which may be a part of them, and there is potassium in dairy products which is key to controlling blood pressure.

Traffic light interpretation: Grape juice contains 14g sugar per 100ml, resulting in a red label for this nutrient (given more than 11.25g sugar per 100ml in drinks).

Containing low-calorie sweeteners, sucralose and acesulfame K, Pink Lemonade from Sainsbury’s, and only 7 percent juices, is gaining green lights across the board.

Expert judgment: A 150ml cup of grape juice contains two-thirds of the daily sugar limit – but it is only one in five a day, and red grapes are rich in resveratrol and other antioxidants, which protect cells from damage.

Although lemon juice is lean and sugar-free (for green, drinks should contain 2.5 grams of sugar per 100ml or less), it is acidic (damages the teeth), has no antioxidant benefits, and is not part of the fruit.

Generally, the juice has more nutritional value, but the serving size does not have to be 150ml.

Cheddar cheese is indisputably high in fats and saturated fats, so it has red tones

Cheddar cheese is indisputably high in fats and saturated fats, so it has red tones

Traffic light interpretation: Cheddar cheese is indisputably rich in fats and saturated fats, so it has reddish tones.

However, lean pork is low on these green lights.

Cheddar gets the salt red, too, while pork scores amber.

However, lean pork is low on these green lights.  Cheddar gets its salt red, too, while pork scores amber

However, lean pork is low on these green lights. Cheddar gets the salt red, too, while pork scores amber

Expert judgment: You’ll always make pork sandwiches, not cheese if your health decisions are based on traffic lights on labels alone – but that would be a mistake, since cheese is a very good source of calcium, with more than a quarter of your daily requirement in the 30g portion.

Cheese also contains slightly higher protein: 7.6g per 30g compared to 5.5g per 25g slice of pork.

The green nutrient labels on pork also do not reflect that it contains nitrites which, although necessary to stop bacterial growth, may contribute to the risk of colon cancer – the World Cancer Research Fund says we should eat less, if any, of processed meats such as Like bacon and pork.

You can also consider pork a high-salt food – at 1.5 percent the maximum amount is amber.

In between the two, choose cheese but stick to a maximum of 30g serving per day due to the saturated fat.

Interpretation of traffic lights: Mackerel is naturally full of saturated fat and fat, and gets red labels for these nutrients, while lean bacon scores only amber. Both contain salt added during processing, which puts them in a red color for these nutrients.

Expert judgment: Despite the red classification for saturated fats and fats, mackerel is still the healthiest choice over bacon, given that its rich fats include the omega-3 fats EPA and DHA, which are essential for brain, heart and eye health.

When you eat one slice, you’ll get all your daily EPA and DHA needs throughout the week, for just over a quarter of a day in saturated fat – a good deal.

Bacon may seem healthier by peeking at traffic sign labels, but these do not indicate that bacon is processed meat that contains nitrites and preservatives that have been linked to colon cancer; It does not provide any of the additional nutrients that fish do.

Interpretation of traffic lights: looking at traffic lights, nuts look more unhealthy than potato chips – they contain 53 percent of total fat (compared to 16 percent in potato chips), which causes a red light to appear; 6.1 percent is saturated fat, and it’s also in the red, and thanks to natural sugar, it’s worse for sugar as well. Traffic lights indicate that french fries are only the worst for salt.

Expert Verdict: A high ratio of “good” polyunsaturated fats to “bad” saturated fats means that the total fats in nuts actually have cholesterol-lowering benefits, which is what your traffic light system doesn’t capture.

Meanwhile, the almonds, cashews, hazelnuts and peanuts here in these mixed nuts provide more vitamins and minerals than potato chips – for example, 40 grams provide about 10 percent of your daily iron, and 20 percent of your daily magnesium. Nerve and muscle function, plus a large dose of the antioxidant Vitamin E.

Also, while French fries contain fewer calories and more “green” traffic lights, they do not contain the same amount of fiber (0.9 grams per pack, compared to 2.4 grams per serving of nuts) and only a small fraction of protein (0.9 grams). Gm in a carton, compared to 8.6 g in nuts).

They also contain a higher percentage of salt, at 8 percent of the daily limit per package compared to 7 percent for nuts.

Potato chips are also a highly processed food, and eating high amounts of them has been linked to obesity, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease.

However, portion control of nuts is still important – I recommend a handful of 30 grams per day.