A quarter of the ultra-processed ones have a good mark in Nutri-Score, the future Spanish nutritional labeling

Unos cereales con chocolate y azúcar con etiqueta Nutri-Score B, en un supermercado de Madrid.
Some cereals with chocolate and sugar with Nutri-Score B label, in a supermarket in Madrid. Victor Sainz

A quarter of the best-selling ultra-processed products in Spain have a good mark in Nutri-Score, the future voluntary labeling that the Ministry of Consumption wants to implement this same anus. This is shown by a report from the El Coco application, which has analyzed 164 types of food of the 48 most marketed brands. Nutri-Score is a traffic light – not a substitute for the current label – that rates products from most to least healthy (from A to E and from green to red) and shows it on a front label. Foods with A and B are considered healthy. Alberto Garzón’s department assumes that this traffic light only values ​​the nutrients and not the degree of processing, and does not rule out supplementing it with some other system in the future.

El Coco’s nutritionists have selected the best-selling products in September and have compared their Nutri-Score rating with their degree of processing; 5% of the ultra-processed obtain an A, while a 22% obtain a B. Among the Unhealthy products with good marks on the nutritional traffic light are sugar-free soft drinks, flavored mineral water, sliced ​​bread, mini-tostadas, battered fish bars, instant cocoa or sugar-free cookies, among others. Meanwhile, extra virgin olive oil gets a C, the same score as rapeseed, something that has the olive growers excited. Consumption did not want to comment on the report, but a few months ago it offered figures not very different: according to its analysis, 8% of the ultra-processed are in the A, while the 80% of them are located in the letters C, D or E.

The key is to define what is ultra-processed, since today there is no legal definition. And the industry is pushing for there never to be and even for this term not to be used. Scientists often use the Nova system, created in 2010 by the University of Sao Paulo, which classifies food into four groups, from 1 (unprocessed ) to 4 (ultra-processed). Juan Revenga, member of the Spanish Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and collaborator of El Coco, explains that “the latter are products with additives that modify the characteristics of the food (colorants, sweeteners, thickeners), with more than five ingredients, with elements that are not usually present in the kitchen (such as soy lecithin) and, in general, with a lot of fats and sugars ”. The vast majority are unhealthy products, although not always. “In any case, Nova is the evaluation system that least fails to classify food,” says the nutritionist. In addition, numerous studies link the consumption of ultra-processed foods with weight gain and an increased risk of death.

The Ministry of Consumer Affairs it refers to Garzón’s statements on the subject a few months ago. “Nutri-Score addresses the nutritional quality of food, but not its degree of processing. Implementing this nutritional traffic light is a great advance, but it must be complemented with other measures based on scientific knowledge, ”said the minister in March. The head of Consumption then pointed out that “the best diet is with fresh products, fruits, vegetables, which do not need Nutri-Score”, since it will not be applied to fresh products.

Jordi Salas-Salvadó, Professor of Nutrition and expert in the new front labeling, referred to the controversy in an interview in EL PAÍS: “Food has many dimensions: one is the nutritional, which is what Nutri-Score talks about; another is the degree of processing; a third is if it favors the sustainability of the planet, and a fourth is if it contains additives. There will never be a front label that can include all of these dimensions. In any case, there are more ultra-processed foods rated D and E than A. There may be ultra-processed foods in a good category, but they are different dimensions. Furthermore, there is no consensus to define what an ultra-processed is. ”

Nutri-Score, which already works voluntarily in France, Germany, Belgium and Switzerland, is already being applied by some brands in Spain —such as Carrefour, Lidl or Alcampo—. The labeling has generated scientific controversy, with open letters for and against. Its voluntary entry into force in Spain is scheduled for this year, but some sources speak that it could be delayed while waiting for the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA, in English) to issue a report on the advisability of applying this frontal labeling throughout the European Union, or another of the available systems. Consumption does not confirm any delay in the measurement for now.

New National Strategy for Food Security and Nutrition

Minister Garzón announced this Thursday a new National Strategy for Food Security and Nutrition, the elaboration of which has been pending since 2008. The document intends to serve for the next five years and will include objectives such as improving the health of consumers through a “safe, healthy and environmentally sustainable” diet. The Budgets contemplate an item of 450. 000 euros to prepare the work.

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