Study finds health foods big on buzzwords

Monday, 06 July, 2020

Study finds health foods big on buzzwords

Masters students Hollie James and Maddison Breen from the Nutrition and Dietetics Department at the Charles Perkins Centre have found that health food snack products contain significantly more claims and buzzwords than their non-health counterparts, despite being only marginally healthier.

The University of Sydney study involved the collection of data from 1110 health food snack products (from health food aisles in supermarkets and health food stores), and 2361 equivalent regular aisle products in supermarkets. The authors compared their nutrition content claims, health claims, buzzwords on labels, nutrition profiles and price.

Researchers found that not only did health food products use more claims and buzzwords than regular aisle products, the most claims and buzzwords were found on products with Health Star Ratings of up to and including 2.5 out of 5 (less healthy products).

“As consumers struggle to interpret product nutrition labels, the presence of many claims, though legal, may be misleading,” said James.

While health food snacks were marginally healthier overall (with average Health Star Ratings of 2.5 versus 2.0), most of the products from their category were discretionary foods that should only be consumed occasionally, emphasising the concern surrounding ‘health’ food products.

“There were no significant differences between health food snacks and regular aisle snacks in terms of energy, saturated fat or sodium. These components are all noted as ‘of concern’ by the World Health Organization, as they can be detrimental to human health,” said James.

Health food snacks were also found to be substantially more expensive, but price did not correlate with the ‘healthfulness’ of a health product. The research findings were published in the journal Nutrients.

“If consumers pay a premium for ethical, organic and sustainable foods, they should not be confused with purchasing foods that are healthier,” said James.

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