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.