UK food labelling scheme gives oven chips a green light and why this makes me see red!

British individuals may be aware that food labelling schemes have been recently introduced in the UK which are designed, we are told, to help us make healthier and more informed choices about what we put into our mouths each day. The most widely implemented scheme has been cooked up by the Government’s Food Standards Agency, which awards red, amber and green lights to foods based on their content of fat, saturated fat, sugar and salt. According to this scheme, an oven-chip produced by the company has been awarded four green lights, a fact which has given rise to headlines hailing the arrival of the ‘healthy’ chip.

Personally, I have major issues with the FSA’s traffic light scheme. For a start, there is scant evidence that fat generally, including saturated fat, contributes to conditions such as obesity and heart disease. Also, some fats such as so-called monounsaturated fat and omega-3 fats may offer protection from disease. Using the FSA’s logic, then nuts come out badly on account of their fatty nature, despite the fact that this food is not linked with increases in weight and at the same time appears to protect against heart disease. Fruit, on account of its high sugar content, scores a red light too.

Anyway, getting back to the highly praised oven chip, how does the traffic light labelling scheme stand up here? Well, for a start, this processed food product is based on potato, a vegetable which releases sugar relatively briskly into the bloodstream. Not only that, but chips are a food that will tend to be eaten in quantity, which means that a portion of this stuff will generally cause considerable increases in blood sugar levels. In response, a normal functioning pancreas will be compelled to secrete a lot of a hormone called insulin, excesses of which promote weight gain. Insulin excess also enhances the risk of conditions such as diabetes, heart disease and some forms of cancer.

But that’s no all. The potato, compared to other vegetables such broccoli, spinach or cabbage, is fabulously un-nutritious. In fact, the UK Government does not even count potatoes as a vegetable when it comes to getting our ‘five portions’ of fruit and veg a day. Let’s get this straight: while there are worse things to eat, potatoes are not so much food as fodder. So apparently our Government is telling us that potatoes are not very healthy unless, of course, they come in the form of oven chips. Well done the nutrition ‘experts’ for showing us the way!

Douglas Smallwood, the Chief Executive of the charity Diabetes UK, is quoted as saying in reference to McCain’s oven chips: This is a great example of how the traffic light system will help people know which foods to choose to stay healthy. Let’s not forget that the potato, especially when eaten in quantity, is generally very disruptive to blood sugar levels. Would it make sense for anyone, not least a diabetic, to view a food product based on potato as ‘healthy’? While Mr Smallwood and the FSA may think so, I suspect someone with even the most rudimentary knowledge of nutrition would disagree.

5 Responses to UK food labelling scheme gives oven chips a green light and why this makes me see red!

  1. Claire Weeks 12 January 2007 at 3:06 pm #

    As a nutritionist I agree – and let’s not forget that potatoes and other members of the solanacae such as tomatoes and peppers are pretty acidifying in the body and make their arthritis worse for many sufferers.

  2. Neil 12 January 2007 at 4:27 pm #

    Total bollocks isn’t it. John. Not to mention that the chips are coated in gunk. e.g. Tesco’s Potato Wedges are coated in Vegetable Oil (presumably soya oil as it is cheap) Wheat Flour, Potato Starch, Rice Flour, Salt and Sugar. Bring back lard if you want to eat chips.

    Just like that programme “The Truth About Food” on BBC2 last night According to either the voiceover or one of the experts, cholesterol is made from saturated fat, and cholesterol ‘sticks’ to the lining of arteries. Two minutes research on the internet would disprove both of those lies. Repeat a lie often enough and it becomes the truth, and the general public is so uncritical of ‘experts’

    Claire Weeks a couple of questions.
    1) What exactly is a nutritionist? Its a term that is getting more frequent. Mad Gillian McKeith is described as a nutritionist and I wouldn’t trust her to make me a hot drink.
    2) Wouldn’t the acidity of a tomato or pepper be totally dwarfed by stomach acidity?

  3. Brian Abbott 12 January 2007 at 11:07 pm #

    Of course, being a long-standing supporter of the sorely missed Dr Atkins, I completely agree with Dr Briffen. However, Dr Briffen’s band of supporters knowing what Dr Briffen says about potatoes and fats is true doesn’t really get us anywhere. What we need to do is to bombard the FSA and the newspapers and television stations with the truth, with every person who is concerned about these matters giving a personal commitment to write to a newspaper or television station, and, at the same time the FSA, telling them the truth about complex carbohydrates and good and bad fats, and demanding that the prove to the contrary if they can. Being able to quote from Dr Biffen would be a help-Dr Briffen. Having the sources of good evidence quote would help too. We could start by each writing letters asking gets the same red light as partially hydrogenated trans fats containing margarine, and, if it does, demand the evidence be produced to justify this.

  4. Brian Abbott 12 January 2007 at 11:09 pm #

    Sorry , the last paragraph of my previous email should have read:

    We could start by each writing letters asking if butter gets the same red light as partially hydrogenated trans fats containing margarine, and, if it does, demand the evidence be produced to justify this.

  5. Brendan 13 January 2007 at 11:56 am #

    Thanks Dr Briffa for all these thought provoking and valid arguments that you publish on your site.
    This one is surely controversial and the FSA should be asked for a full report on how these greasy, high calorie, vitamin deficient, enzyme deficient and phytochemical deficient foods can to get publicised as a “health food” (for the want of a better term) these chips are in my opinion a junk food aswas and still is in my opinion the Walkers crisps. Perhaps there was a “brown paper bag” involved somewhere along the way. What happened wholesome natural rice or even jacket potatoes with real butter if necesary.
    As A health fitness professional I am always upset when I see articles that are controversial being put out to the public.
    Food information should be thoroughly researched and tested befor going public when it is coming from state agencies, which people tend to believe.
    I will promote this topic in Ireland through my blog and keep up to date on the progress on this issue I hope it collapses or is researched and collated accuratly.
    regards Brendan.

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