One man's health claim is another man's poison

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Related tags: Omega-3 fatty acid, Nutrition, Eu

One man's health claim is another man's poison
Now that the EU regulation on nutrition and health claims has been adopted, the industry is busily marshalling evidence to back up bids for inclusion...

Now that the EU regulation on nutrition and health claims has been adopted, the industry is busily marshalling evidence to back up bids for inclusion in the UK list of permitted claims.

Meanwhile, the media continues to bombard people with news on the magical properties - or otherwise - of a whole raft of foods from everyday products, such as meat, to the latest exotic fruit juices. Surely, this is tantamount to making claims, but rather than trying to sell specific items, it is designed to boost the egos of the researchers involved as they strive to become the acknowledged experts in their various fields.

The question is whether these pearls are any more helpful to the beleaguered consumer than claims made by the food manufacturers themselves.

The value of making a claim to the researcher could be equivalent to the value to the manufacturer of such a claim. I am not advocating that this research should be regulated, but, from the consumer point of view, there isn't much difference between these two types of communication on healthy eating. Both amount to simple headlines of the 'eat this food and you are less likely to get prostate cancer' or 'eat something else and you are more susceptible to cardiovascular disease' variety.

Every so often, someone publishes a list of super foods which will be most beneficial. But, let's face it, by the time you've eaten a cupful of blueberries, a handful of nuts, a large helping of broccoli, four tomatoes, a grapefruit, a bowl of wholegrain rice, another of oats and a raw garlic clove, surely you would have lost the will to live?

A little joined up thinking is needed in the whole area and, until that happens, we are offered a pick-and-mix diet, whereby you select the foods with the claims you like the sound of and ignore the rest.

Recently, we were told that low-carb, high-fat diets don't increase the risk of heart disease. Another professor found that red meat doubles the risk of breast cancer. Meanwhile, we hear there is more than one type of omega-3 fatty acid and they're not all equally good for us. An omega-3 trade association has been formed in the US to make sense of it all. Good luck to them!

More than 745 omega-3 products have been introduced so far this year. Most people will find it easier to suppose that omega-3 is omega-3 and there's an end to it, but the new regulation will probably require manufacturers to make it clear that one person's omega-3 is not another's.

Clare Cheney​ is director general at the Provision Trade Federation