Breakfast cereal nutrition labels “cannot be completely relied upon” to indicate true food composition and should be “factored” regularly, according to a new report from the Irish Food Safety Authority (FSAI).
The report was prepared to evaluate the use of nutrition labels on breakfast cereals to see if they are reliable in monitoring the “food reformulation” of foods sold in the Irish market.
When reformulating food, manufacturers are reducing ingredients such as fat, saturated fat, sugar, and salt in processed and packaged foods to improve their nutritional quality and health profile.
The process is seen as a cost effective way to tackle obesity, which affects more than half of the Irish population.
The report, which analyzed the contents of around 200 types of grain, concluded that their labels “may not reflect this process” and that those in the Irish market “need to be checked regularly”.
The FSAI examined the cross-section of breakfast cereals to “determine the accuracy of the nutritional labeling” in accordance with the European Commission (EC) guidelines on nutritional labeling tolerances, ie acceptable deviations from the stated values.
The study found that the analyzed content of fat, saturated fat, sugar or salt “in 68.3 percent of the analyzed breakfast cereals that were outside the nutritional labeling tolerances of the EU directive was lower than stated on the label.
“While this is a potential non-compliance with the Labeling Tolerance Directive, it benefits the consumer in terms of a healthier nutritional profile for breakfast cereals on the market.”
The study found that the declared nutrition labels were “mostly in line” with the tolerances of the EU directive on nutrition labeling for saturated fats, sugar and salt content in breakfast cereals.
However, 14.1 percent of breakfast cereals were outside the nutritional labeling tolerances of the EC directive for total fat.
While the study observed “no systematic biases” for placing breakfast cereals on the market with a higher nutrient content than what is stated on the label, it suggested that “nutrition labels declared may not reflect food reformulation efforts”.
Based on the results of the study, the FSAI recommended that the contents of the report be taken into account by an obesity working group charged with developing a monitoring program for the reformulation.
“There are numerous factors that affect variations in the declared and analyzed nutritional content of breakfast cereals and this requires further research with the food industry as this could affect reformulation monitoring,” it said.
“Based on the results of this study and an earlier study using the same methodology on yogurt, reformulation monitoring programs that use declared nutrition labels need to be periodically reviewed against nutrition labels.”