France has a food labeling system that gives the products a degree in their nutritional quality. Should the United States do the same?
Eating more nutritious foods can reduce your risk of cancer.
And researchers say that nutrition labels can help you make good choices between the foods that are good for you and those that are not.
A study by Mélanie Deschasaux of the French National Institute for Health and Medical Research found that eating foods with a lower nutritional quality is associated with an increased risk of cancer.
The opposite may also be true, according to the study published in the journal PLOS Medicine.
“The study confirms what most medical professionals already accept as a fact, that whole foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds and legumes reduce the risk of cancer and other diseases,” said Yi Sherry Zhang, PhD, precision research scientist. Nutrition and population genetics and founder of GenoPalate, told Healthline.
“We have inventories of data that suggest that highly nutritious foods, such as whole fruits and vegetables, lower the risk of cancer,” added New Jersey nutritionist Tina Marinaccio.
He noted that populations that follow nutritious, plant-based diets, such as Seventh-day Adventists, have a lower risk of contracting certain types of cancer.
In the study, individual diets were evaluated using the nutrient profiling system of the British Food Standards Agency (FSAm-NPS).
The study analyzed the food intake data from the European Prospective Investigation on Cancer and Nutrition of 471,495 adults, giving each one an FSAm-NPS score.
Among patients with the lowest dietary nutrition scores, cancer rates were 81 per 10,000 person / year, compared to 69.5 among those whose scores indicated that they consumed the most nutritious diets.
“The higher [scores] were specifically associated with higher risks of colon-rectum cancer, upper aerodigestive tract and stomach, lung for men and liver and postmenopausal for women,” the study concluded.
A better set of “nutritional data”
The researchers suggested that FSAm-NPS should be used more widely to help guide consumers’ food choices.
An example is the voluntary Nutri-Score system based on FSAm-NPS, recently adopted for the labeling of packages in France.
Nutri-Score provides five color-coded classifications of packaged foods, from most (A) to least (E) nutritious.
Belgium also recently committed to adopt Nutri-Score, which, according to a 2017 study, was “associated with a higher nutritional quality of purchases”.
“There is evidence that the Nutri-Score can be used as a tool to help consumers make informed decisions, particularly regarding the size of the portion of less healthy products, and that it is more effective than some of the other labeled ones. proposed on the front of the package “said dietitian Summer Yule, pointing to a recent study in Nutrients magazine.
The study “supports the relevance of the FSAm-NPS as the underlying nutrient profiling system for the nutrition labels on the front of the package, as well as other nutritional public health measures,” according to Deschasaux and colleagues.
Yule told Healthline that the findings do not mean that people should only eat foods with an “A” score.
“Adopting a certain dietary pattern is not a guarantee of protection against cancer,” Yule said.
“I worry a little that people who read studies like this can become too restrictive in their eating habits, making decisions based on fear. The idea is to get people to change their options to the extreme A / B, instead of cutting out certain foods altogether. ”
Ginger Hultin, a Seattle-based diet and nutrition coach with Arivale, says teaching people how to prepare more nutritious foods is an important part of encouraging people to change their diets.
“If you just take a bean and eat it, you do not know much,” he told Healthline. “You need to pay [the same] level of attention to the preparation of this type of food that you would do when grilling a steak.”
That includes the use of sauces and spices, as well as cooking methods that preserve the flavors of food, such as steaming instead of boiling vegetables.
Informed food choices
In the United States, the labeling of the nutrition information package required by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) provides information, but does not evaluate the relative nutrient content of the food.
“To help consumers make informed choices about foods, labeling products with easy-to-understand methods can help prevent cancer with better nutrition,” Zhang said. “It can also help support a change in the industry for manufacturers to improve the nutritional quality of their products, making it even easier for consumers to choose options that support their health.”
She added: “This study was carried out in Europe, but the United States is also plagued with misleading or inaccurate labeling, many areas of poverty are known as food deserts, and providing the suggested changes in labeling would allow consumers to choose pre-packaged foods that are most beneficial when fresh fruits and vegetables are not available. ”
Marinaccio told Healthline that current nutrition labels are confusing, and that manufacturers can make marketing claims that have little to do with nutrition and information presented in a format that is far from intuitive.
“The fact that a can of butter has been” glued without gluten “on the front, does not make it healthy,” he said.
“Does sugar appear at the top of the ingredient list? This can be confused when there are several types of sugar added under different names. I could add a lot, so I also checked the grams of sugar. And do not be fooled by names like organic cane sugar, agave and coconut sugar. At the molecular level, sugar is sugar, and they act on your body in the same way. ”
Hultin says that while people should avoid foods prepared with a long list of ingredients, frozen foods are not inherently bad.
“Frozen fruits and vegetables can be as nutritious as they are fresh and could be more affordable,” he says.