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5-a-day: understanding portions


One tangerine, or five tomatoes? How many consumers - and indeed food industry folks - actually know what, exactly, counts as a portion of fruit or vegetables towards the recommended '5-a-day' consumption ? Arguably, the minority. In a bid to dispel the confusion the UK government yesterday launched a new logo for food packaging that incorporates a clear portion indicator. Good news for consumer organisations that continue to push food manufacturers for firmer, more transparent information.

Over the next few months, the new logo will start to appear in supermarkets on a range of foods. Fresh,chilled, frozen, canned and dried fruit and vegetables which do not have any added sugar, salt or fat meet the criteria for the new logo if theycontain at least one portion of fruit or vegetables.

The UK food industry welcomed the new logo and took the opportunity to stress its ongoing consumer campaign. A spokesperson for the UK Food and Drink Federation commented: "The Food and Drink Federation is playing its part with the industry's own consumer information programme, foodfitness. This was set up in 1996 to promote the 5-a-day message in the context of moderate exercise and a balanced diet."

"We look forward to working with the government to drive these messages home and to helping the government complete its nutritional criteria to best inform consumers about the food they buy," the FDF added.

The UK Department of Health is keen to push the '5-a-day' message as part of a wider drive to improve the overall health of the British people - and consequently, the burden of ill health on the government purse.

According to the government,if a product contains one portion (roughly 80g) of fruit orvegetables per serving, one square of the portion indicator will be shaded. If a typical serving would give you two portions, two squareswill be shaded. In order to encourage varied diet, the maximum number of portions that can be claimed per serving is two.

Evidence that the consumer is totally baffled by the '5-a-day' portion came shining through from a recent government survey (National Diet and Nutrition Survey (2001)- jointly funded by the Food Standards Agency and the Department ofHealth) that revealed nearly four fifths (79 per cent) of people incorrectly thought that a jacket potato should count towards their daily intake, two fifths (41 per cent) believed rice should count and one in eight (13 per cent) thought strawberry jam should count towards the '5-a-day'. There's definitely communication work to be done.

Public Health Minister Hazel Blears said : "Consumers want healthy choices to be easy choices, so they need accurate, consistent advice on how to reach the 5 A DAY target. If the logo appears on a product, people can beconfident that it will count towards the recommended daily target forfruit and vegetables and that they aren't eating too much salt, sugar or fat at the same time."

The government received endorsement for the logo from Cancer Research UK - chief executive Sir Paul Nurse commented : "We know from our own research that eating five a day can significantly lower the risk of some cancers. We welcome this new logo which will helppeople make healthy choices more easily."

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