Researchers from the Northern Ireland Centre for Food and Health (NICHE), in collaboration with the University of Hertfordshire and Canada's University of Alberta, said nutrition labelling indicating lower levels of both fat and calories “may give permission to mis-perceptions in consumers’ minds with unintended and unwanted consequences on food intake”.
According to the authors of the research, which was titled When nutrition labels increase our food consumption, food portion sizes have increased over the last few years, leading to excessive energy and fat intake, which they argued was contributing to obesity.
The research aimed to determine the extent to which nutritional information about fat and energy content in foods influenced intake among “normal and overweight adults”.
It studied 48 people aged between 23 and 50 over three different days and separated by two-week intervals.
“Every day participants were provided with the same lunch meal (chicken curry with rice), which was accompanied by a different label containing information about the fat and energy content of the meal,” researchers explained.
The labels used in the study were a combination of guideline daily amounts (GDAs), which provided the amount and percentage total daily intake of nutrients per-serving, and the coloured traffic light system. Through changing the labels on the meals, researchers were able to judge their effect.
Results from the study suggested that, when people thought the meal was low in fat and energy, they consumed more. In contrast, nutrition labels showing higher levels of fat and energy did not change participants’ food intake compared to their baseline.
Wanted to eat more
While their hunger was satisfied by meals eaten, participants wanted to eat more when the food was presented as low in fat or energy.
“These findings indicate that nutrition labels that indicate low levels of fat and energy can sometimes create mis-perceptions in consumers’ minds and negate any advantages of consuming a healthy food when the food is over-consumed,” researchers said.
They also called for more research in this field.