UK consumer watchdog questions functional foods

By Shane Starling

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Plant sterols, Nutrition

The influential UK-based consumer welfare advocate, Which?, has poured scorn on some functional foods, despite the fact 59 per cent of its highly sceptical members buy omega-3, probiotic and other functional foods.

In a mini-review of the £613m (€682m) UK omega-3, plant sterols/stanols and probiotics markets, Which? said some products could deliver health benefits, but questioned some foods that possessed only low doses of functional ingredients.

Its missive was picked up by at least one UK mainstream tabloid, The Daily Mirror, ​which ran the headline: Omega-3 superfoods 'pointless'.

Which? noted that while 59 per cent of its members consumed functional foods, 81 per cent were sceptical about the claims being made for them.

Can be beneficial

In addition to surveying more than 2500 of its members, Which? sent products to Catherine Collins, chief dietitian at London’s St George’s Hospital, and Professor Glenn Gibson, a food microbiologist from Reading University.

“Products with added omega 3, probiotics or plant sterols or stanols can be beneficial for certain people, but not all, and they may be unsuitable for those with certain conditions,”​ it concluded.

“Some have to be consumed in large amounts to be beneficial or they might work only for as long as they’re taken, which can prove expensive.”

It noted that, “to get any real benefit from the omega-3 in Heinz Baked Beans With Omega 3, for example, you’d need to consume six tins a day, which would cost a whopping £1,183 (€1318) over a year.”

One salmon fillet a week per week would deliver the same omega-3 payload, it said.

It welcomed the introduction of pan-European nutrition and health claims. “We’re happy that health claims of products with added omega-3, probiotics or plant sterols or stanols will have to be approved before being used in marketing so that consumers aren’t misled.

However, there still needs to be better labeling, especially on some of the probiotic products we looked at which didn’t specify the number of bacteria they contained.”

Citizen’s advice

It issued advice for those considering purchasing functional foods that stated:

· Have I got a health concern that could benefit from using probiotics, omega-3 or plant sterols and stanols?

· Do I really need omega-3, probiotics or plant sterols and stanols?

· Could I make changes to my diet instead?

· Can I realistically eat the amount or omega-3, probiotics or plant sterols and stanols needed to benefit?

· Can I afford to spend extra on foods containing omega-3, probiotics or plant sterols and stanols?

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