Researchers at the University of Bonn have reached the conclusion that the traffic light label is more effective in helping consumers resist high-calorie foods than a purely information-based label.
Red, yellow, green: The traffic signal labels on packages are supposed to be an easy-to-understand indication of the overall “healthiness” of a food product. For example, “red” symbolizes a high percentage of fat, sugar or salt, “green” a lower percentage. Just as on an actual traffic light, yellow falls in the middle.
The traffic light label appears to enable the study participants to better resist unhealthy foods compared to a label containing the traditional information on grams and percentages of the particular ingredients. A traffic light label probably implicitly increases the weight consumers place on healthiness in their decision.
The use of traffic light labelling is supported by many physician groups including the British Medical Association and welcomed by consumers. Despite worries from some in the food industry that red foods would be shunned, the British Medical Association, Food Standards Agency and others agree that consumers interpret the labels sensibly, realize they can have red foods as a ‘treat’, and they are easier to understand than lists of percentages.
The new traffic light food labelling system to help consumers know how much fat, sugar, salt and energy a food product contains risks interpretation that there is something to hide.
Red foods are full of energy but have little or no nutritional value. These are the troublemakers! They are hard for the body to digest and if eaten too often and in large amounts, contribute to poor health.
Red foods are:
- Low in vitamins & minerals.
- High in saturated fat, added sugar &/or salt.
- Low in fibre.
- High in energy density.
These foods make up Red menu items:
- All shallow & deep fried foods.
- Processed meats like salami, luncheon and sausage.
- Processed commercial foods like cream buns, donuts, pastries & pies.
- Processed snack foods like potato chips, muesli bars & fancy biscuits.
- Cakes, scones & muffins.
- Confectionary, chocolate, & icecream.
Yellow foods have
- Some vitamins & minerals:
- Moderate levels of saturated fat, added sugar &/or salt.
- Moderate levels of fibre.
- Moderate levels of energy density.
These foods make up our menu items:
- Refined white breads & processed breakfast cereals.
- Full fat dairy products like tasty cheese & custard.
- Processed meats like pastrami, ham or bacon.
- Some processed or home made cakes, biscuits, slices or pies with reduced fat or sugar or salt.
- Reduced fat flavoured milk based drinks and reduced sugar fruit juices.
Green foods are:
- An important source of vitamins and minerals.
- Naturally low in saturated fat, sugar &/or salt.
- Higher in fiber.
- Lower in energy density (nutritional value compared to energy (kj) value)
These foods make up our Green menu items:
- High fibre and wholegrain breads, pasta, rice and natural cereals.
- All plain fruit & vegetables.
- Fresh, plain meat, fish and poultry.
- Low fat dairy products & alternatives.
- Eggs, legumes, raw or roasted unsalted nuts & seeds.
- Water and freshly made juices.
The Traffic Light Food Guide is a guideline only and is not meant to replace nutritional advice sort from a qualified authority.