Products across the US have maintained similar nutritional profiles over the years with “little change” overall, said researchers writing in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Between 2005 and 2012, the average saturated fat density of products increased from 6.5 grams per 100 g in 2005 to 7.3 g and 7.9 g for pre-existing and newly introduced respectively. However, researchers noted this could be a result of efforts to remove trans fats.
The average energy density of RTE grain-based desserts purchased by consumers during the period wasdown11 kilocalories (kcal) per 100 g and sugar density also decreased in products purchased between 2005 and 2012, but only by about 1 g.
Kevin Mathias, lead author of the study, said the findings showed food manufacturers had a way to go in reformulating grain-based desserts.
“The new ready-to-eat grain-based desserts released in 2012 did not have lower energy, sugar, or saturated fat densities than the products already existing on the market,” he said.
Low-fat cake or a piece of fruit?
Mathias said there were opportunities for food manufacturers and policy makers to not only reformulate products but shift purchasing behavior within the category towards healthier varieties.
“…Larger wide-scale efforts are needed among public health officials and all manufacturers of ready-to-eat grain-based desserts to shift consumer purchases towards products with lower energy, sugar and saturated fat content.”
For example, rather than encouraging consumers to switch from donuts to a piece of fruit, efforts could be made to encourage a switch to low-fat or reduced-calorie donuts, he explained.
This could be done with more marketing of healthier products or less marketing of others, he said.
“We do a great job of measuring what people are eating, but less on what products are available and how that’s changed…What about this idea can we get people to shift within product categories?”
However, findings showed “some good news”, the researchers said.
Between 2005 and 2012, household purchases of RTE grain-based desserts decreased by 24%.
Consumers had also shifted towards less energy and sugar dense products, but only marginally.
The researchers said: “Although the decreases in energy and sugar density of RTE grain-based dessert products is encouraging, the magnitude of the decrease (less than 4%) indicates that efforts to promote consumption of RTE grain-based dessert products with lower energy, saturated fat and sugar density have had limited effectiveness.”
The researchers used Nielsen Homescan data for purchases habits combined with Nutrition Facts Panel data that corresponded to each product purchased.
“The advantage is that by linking NFP data to product purchase we now have the capability to measure if households are changing the types of products they purchase. We were also able to detect if grain based desserts themselves are changing,” Mathias said.
However, the researchers acknowledged some limitations to the study set-up, including an inability to consider pack sizes and shelf space dedicated to the product and the idea that household-level analysis may not be fully representative of the US population.
Source: Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics
Published online ahead of print, doi: 10.1016/j.jand.2014.10.018
“Monitoring Changes in the Nutritional Content of Ready-To-Eat Grain-Based Dessert Products Manufactured and Purchased Between 2005 and 2012”
Authors: KC.Mathias, SW. Ng and BM. Popkin