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Wednesday, 4 July, 2001, 23:37 GMT 00:37 UK
Consumers 'misled' over health claims

Some foods are not offering the health benefits they promise
Consumers are being misled over expensive "functional" food which promises added nutrients or slimming properties.

A study by Which? magazine showed that many of the products were no more beneficial than their cheaper alternatives.

The Consumers' Association is calling for European legislation to require manufacturers to back up health claims before their products go on sale.

Scientists looked at a whole range of everyday foods, ranging from low-fat spreads and protein-packed meals to high-cost energy drinks, which they said were no better than a cup of coffee with sugar.

Some 'functional' foods are just not cutting the mustard.

Helen Parker, Editor of Which?

Food pledges

While they found good evidence that some foods like Benecol and Flora pro.activ margarines do what they claim, that the evidence for other foodstuffs is less compelling.

This will be a boost for the two low-fat margarine manufacturers who were recently rapped by the Advertising Standards Authority over their claims for reducing cholesterol.

The Consumers Association found:

  • Energy drinks such as Lipovitan and Red Bull were high in sugar, expensive, didn't fit in with healthy eating advice and were no more effective than drinking a cup of coffee with sugar and unsuitable for young children or people sensitive to caffeine.
  • Omega-3 products, such as Freshlay Vita eggs and Bertrams Exclusiv Omega fruit juice are a useful source of omega-3 fatty acids, but oily fish is generally a better source.
  • Plant stanol and sterol esters in 'cholesterol reducing' spreads such as Benecol are most likely to be beneficial to those with high cholesterol or at risk of heart disease.
  • Soy products are known to reduce cholesterol, but the formal publication of results of a trial commissioned by Marks & Spencer are awaited to see if their "&more" range of foods live up to their claims.
  • But inspectors found that some "& more" foods, which include sandwiches, pasta, bread, soup, smoothies and pasta sauce, contained levels of vitamins way above the recommended daily amounts.
Helen Parker, Editor of Which? said: "Some 'functional' foods are just not cutting the mustard.

"More research is needed before functional foods for on sale and health claims should be controlled by law."

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