Swedish shoppers’ baskets filled with healthier foods, survey finds

By Will Chu

- Last updated on GMT

Results from the Swedish survey found the average consumer ate less sugar and salt, more healthy fat and more vitamin D than five years ago. © iStock
Results from the Swedish survey found the average consumer ate less sugar and salt, more healthy fat and more vitamin D than five years ago. © iStock

Related tags: Nutrition

Consumers in Sweden are eating healthier compared to five years ago as a survey finds an overall decrease in sugar and salt intake whilst consumption of healthy fats and vitamin D have increased.     

The survey, commissioned by the Swedish National Food Agency (NFA), also found that whilst the intakes of most minerals are in line with national recommendations, apart from iodine intake which was below.

Women of childbearing age were also found to be lacking in iron. Additionally, estimated intake of dietary fibre was lower than recommended.

“Households are now buying food that is more in line with dietary recommendations,”​ said Per Ola Darnerud, toxicologist and project manager at the NFA. “It is encouraging that it goes in the right direction, although we still do not eat well.”

“We also see that the toxins in food [have decreased] generally, even if it is slow. All the topics we have measured are below the levels at which health can be adversely affected,”​ he added.

The survey​, which analyses levels of nutrients and toxic compounds in commonly purchased foods on the Swedish market, is considered a reliable indicator of the nation’s eating habits. The results overall compare favourably to the last market basket study in 2010.

Since then, the NFA has been able to build up a picture of nutrient and chemical intake per capita.

Market basket studies can also add greater insights into the contamination situation for chemicals that recently have been identified as potentially problematic food contaminants.

Fat consumption

trans fat saturated label nutrition
Fats such as monounsaturated fatty acids, trans-fatty acids (0.85-1 g per day), omega-3 fatty acids, linoleic and alpha linolenic acid were found to be in line with Nordic Nutrition Recommendations (NNR). ©iStock

Fats such as monounsaturated fatty acids, trans-fatty acids (0.85-1 g per day), omega-3 fatty acids, linoleic and alpha linolenic acid were found to be in line with Nordic Nutrition Recommendations (NNR).

However, for saturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids intakes were above NNR.

The study calculated that fat provided around 35% of the energy intake (E%) compared to 34 E% in the market basket study of 2010.

Carb consumption habits  

Dietary fibre intake was judged to be around two grams per megajoule (g/MJ)— a value that was higher than 2010’s survey but still below the recommendation of 3 g/MJ.

For added sugar the signs were encouraging from a health point of view. The research team calculated intake decreased from 112 g per day in 2010 to 80-85 g per day in the current MB study.

“However, estimated intake of added sugar of 11 E% is still above the recommendation of less than 10E%,”​ the study noted.

“With a high intake of sugar it might be difficult to have sufficient intakes of vitamins and minerals without having a too high energy intake.”

Comparisons with the 2010 study also extended towards the type of sugars consumed with sucrose consumption decreasing whereas intake of glucose and fructose had increased.

The survey attributed this observation to the increased use of other sweeteners than sucrose, such as high-fructose syrups.

Toxic metal content

One area of particular concern was the intake of a number of potentially toxic, non-essential metals that the researchers judged to be close to recommended intakes or recognised reference points (RP).

Among these metals were cadmium, inorganic arsenic, mercury and lead.

The team identified lead, mercury and cadmium as metals that can be found in cereal. They suggested its consumption, along with other whole grains, as sources of the noted intake increase.

“In case of cadmium, the per capita intake is estimated to about half of the RP, which means that a certain part of the population (i.e. children, high consumers of cadmium-rich food items) will have an intake above this reference,”​ the survey said.

In contrast, organic contaminants, such as PCB and chloropesticides, showed a decrease in per capita intake that were sufficiently low when compared to health-based RPs.

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