An open letter to a Dietitian; ‘the whole packaging’.

on March 10, 2016 Blog with 0 comments

A Dietitian friend, whom I respect enormously and I know does wonderful work with her patients, expressed concern recently when we were talking about doing some work together and having her endorse, well more like, support The One Line Rule.

It began with the following response by email – ‘as a dietitian I do encourage my patients to not only look at the sugar content, but to look at the whole packaging.’

So I began writing, and writing, and writing!

Surely, the major problem faced by consumers, is ‘the whole packaging’!

Because, try as they might and believe what they do, Dietitians, Nutritionists, Doctors etc end up having very little influence over what ends up on ‘the whole packaging’ – which is ultimately what the consumer is faced with when making their decisions.  In fact, the major influencers, drivers of the final decisions (like implementing the 5 Star Health Rating System on packaging) are the powerful companies that produce the food in the first place.

You only have to look at some of the Certifications you can find on ‘the whole packaging’ :

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The 5 Star Health Rating System – Nutrigrain and Milo drinks sporting 4 & 4.5 Stars – and running major TV advertising campaigns promoting the fact – because they have the money to do that.  (More than two thirds of Kelloggs Australian cereals score 4 stars or better. To give some context broccoli rates 5 Stars, carrots rate 4.5, scrambled egg 3.5!)

The Heart Tick – Gone in the wake of too much scrutiny – probably beginning at the time they gave ticks to McDonalds products.  Again, big bucks spent on advertising that association. And, oh, the product successfully sold as a result!

Glycemic Index – 100% Fructose product carries the mark – CSR & Mars are two of their biggest customers – massive conflict of interests – but the consumer believes in anything that’s Low GI and sees it as a good enough reason to buy the product.

I’ve even investigated the Low FODMAP concept recently.  Whilst I completely accept the fact that, people living with conditions such as IBS (where FODMAPs are implicated), quite clearly have a very difficult time with finding the right foods to eat, I really do struggle to come to terms with the fact some of the products that are certified – actually are?

A quick look at some of the Low FODMAP certified products, not least a Well and Good Gluten Free Sponge Swiss Roll mix.  The instructions say fill with jam of your choice?  I couldn’t find the Nutrition Panel but if it’s anything like the ‘Food For Health’ Cinnamon Bars – also accredited – at 20.8% Sugars  – not far off 1/4, then I’m completely confused.

Just on those Food for Health bars, ‘sweetened with Natvia’ – Natvia doesn’t actually register in a nutrition panel as Sugars so how then are sugars at 20.8%– ah Brown Rice Syrup, which does in fact illicit an insulin response, so is no good for diabetics?  And the list goes on.

Then there’s the confusing, conflicting messaging & claims on ‘the whole packaging’ like:

  • 99% Fat Free, Reduced Fat, Lite, Light – 9 out of 10 times is higher in sugar that the full fat variety
  • No Added Sugar – Already plenty in there from ingredients like dried fruit & honey.
  • Only Natural Sugars – Fructose – the ‘natural’ sugar is the one identified as the problem – loads of it in dried fruit and honey.
  • 40% Less Sugar – This actually appears on a cereal that had 28% Sugar content – that’s more than ¼ Sugar.
  • Lunchbox Friendly – These products will fit in a lunchbox but more often than not that’s their only redeeming feature.

Every one of these is a RED FLAG – when you understand how to read ‘the whole packaging’ – when you don’t, they are the big selling point!

Even Ingredients Lists – We see endless examples of sugar named differently numerous times through a list.  This works for the food company, as it prevents sugar from sitting at the head of the list.

  • For example: A muesli product:  Rolled oats, nuts 8.5% (almonds and cashews), brown sugar, raw sugar, glucose, oat flour, canola oil, seeds 3.6% (pepitas and sunflower seeds), starch, natural vanilla flavour, antioxidant (306)

A fair assumption here would be that brown sugar, raw sugar & glucose added together would equate to more than 8.5%, hard to say how close it would get to the oats.

Let’s consider, The One Line Rule,

Every packaged food item must carry a Nutrition Information Panel or NIP – it’s the law.

Calculated scientifically – unlike much of the other information on ‘the whole packaging’ – the figures in the NIP tell the TRUTH.

So I guess what I’m saying is – that while the smarter (and sicker) consumers do seek out the advice from your industry – the majority is still out there on their own, confronted by all of the above.

I believe that a simple message – that will assist people who are in dire need of saving from what’s being served up to them on ‘the whole packaging’ – must be worth sharing.

It certainly can’t harm and we have to start somewhere.