Millions of people at risk as food packaging is still not clear and concise, experts warn

MILLIONS of Brits are at risk of serious health issues as many foods still aren’t labelled correctly, experts have warned.

Clear and consistent food labelling is essential for the close to five million people in the UK that live with diabetes.

Labelling is also essential for those at risk of developing type 2 diabetes and the general public, charity Diabetes UK says.

They have warned that at present, nutritional information is confusing and inconsistent and can – in some instances – be completely absent in shops and restaurants.

Nutritional information on foods is particularly important for diabetics as they need to check carbohydrate levels in food before administering their insulin.

Without this data, it’s difficult for diabetics to correctly calculate what dosage of insulin they need, which can prove hugely problematic.

Diabetics following a basal or bolus insulin regimen via injections, or using insulin pumps and closed loop technology, need the carbohydrate count to adjust meal times and snacks.

There is a danger that if diabetes don't have the right amount they could faint, pass out. Over time not looking after these insulin levels can also lead to issues with major organs such as the heart and kidneys.

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Most food is labelled – but some isn’t, such as bakery items, or dishes when you eat out.

Diabetes UK is calling for more to be done, and says there needs to be more transparency around food labelling. 

The charity said: “Governments across the UK and the food industry both need to take urgent action to improve provision of nutritional information in and out of the home”.

They want back-of-pack labelling to be clearer when it comes to carbohydrates, a recent report states.

Speaking to The Sun, one expert highlighted the dangers of what can happen if a diabetic’s carbohydrate consumption is off-kilter.

Dr Will Cave GP from The Fleet Street Clinic in London explains that carbohydrates are foods that can be easily turned into glucose.

“The ease with which foods are turned into glucose is referred to as the ‘Glycaemic Index’ or GI. Foods such as white bread and white rice are turned rapidly into glucose causing a sudden spike in the glucose levels in the blood, while carbohydrates with a low GI, such as nuts, whole grain cereals and most vegetables, will cause a slow rise in blood glucose.

“Type 1 diabetics generally avoid foods with a high GI because they know it makes controlling their glucose levels more difficult. 

“Low glucose levels in the blood might cause them to feel faint or even pass out [a so-called hypo], while high glucose levels are harmful to the blood vessels and over time this can cause damage to the heart, kidneys, eyes – in fact most organs and systems within the body.”

What is diabetes and what are the signs you need to know?

Diabetes is a condition caused by high levels of glucose – or sugar – in the blood.

Glucose levels are so high because the body is unable to properly use it.

In people diagnosed with diabetes, their pancreas doesn't produce any insulin, or not enough insulin.

Insulin is a hormone typically produced by the pancreas and allows glucose to enter the cells in the body, where it's used for energy.

What are the signs to look out for with diabetes?

Common signs you may have diabetes include:

  • going to the toilet a lot, especially at night
  • being really thirsty
  • feeling more tired than usual
  • losing weight without trying to
  • genital itching or thrush
  • cuts and wounds that take longer to heal
  • blurred vision

The symptoms are caused by high levels of glucose remaining in the blood, where it cannot be used as energy.

These signs are common in children and adults alike.

But adults suffering with type 1 diabetes can find it harder to recognise their symptoms.

Diabetes UK's four Ts campaign – Toilet, Thirsty, Tired and Thinner – aims to raise awareness of the key signs.

Type 2 diabetics also control their blood glucose levels with a low GI diet, and the greatest danger to type 2 diabetics is having blood glucose levels that are slightly high for many weeks, months or even years. 

This can cause gradual damage to all the vital organs in the body without you realising it, potentially leading to kidney failure, heart attack or strokes. 

Diabetes UK wants the government to legislate to make front of pack traffic light labelling mandatory.

Diabetes UK says guidance on back-of-pack labelling should be improved and that carbohydrates should be displayed both per serve and per 100g.

They said: “There should be a consistent approach to whether these values apply to the product or are sold as prepared.

“Legislation in all UK nations should ensure that full nutritional information is provided for all products sold in and out of home settings.

“This information should be available both in store and online, with traffic light colour coding applied to fat, saturated fat, sugar and salt.”

The charity also says the food industry should take urgent action to ensure there is sufficient labelling on their menus and provide clear information on the carbohydrate content of all their products, in store and online.

ON A MISSION 

While Diabetes UK is urging the government and restaurants to be more transparent when it comes to food labelling, one campaigner argues even more action needs to be taken.

Ron Cook is a retired technical manager in the food industry and has launched a petition to get all food products, packed, pre-packed and loose, labelled.

Ron’s 10-year-old daughter has type 1 diabetes and he says that under the current legislation, he can’t just go and get his daughter an ice-cream as there’s rarely information on the carbohydrates involved.

Ron is campaigning for the carbohydrate amount to be displayed on the front of the packet.

He said: “Diabetics are tired, angry and worn out.

“No one can find any nutritional data anywhere and there is a huge number of people who are being discriminated against.”

In October Natasha’s Law was put into place after the death of 15-year-old Natasha Ednan-Laperouse.

She had an allergic reaction to sesame seeds baked into the bread of an improperly labelled Pret baguette, bought at Heathrow Airport.

Her dad tried to save her with two doses of drugs and administering an EpiPen, but she died later the same day.

Products that now need to be labelled include pre-wrapped sandwiches, fast food already in packaging before a customer places their order, and supermarket items such as cheeses and meat from the deli counter that are wrapped and ready to be served.  

Now, 14 major allergens have to be listed – but other nutritional information is optional.

Ron is calling for Natasha’s Law to be amended so nutritional data is available for everyone, so diabetics and allergy sufferers alike can stay safe.

This means loose foods would need to be labelled at the front and nutritional information would need to be made available for products such as loose bread rolls and croissants.

A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson told The Sun: “We are taking action to help those living with diabetes to manage their condition and to prevent Type 2 diabetes – including £100 million of extra funding for healthy weight programmes – and we have launched the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities to build on this support.

“While there are no current plans to mandate carbohydrate labelling outside of pre-packaged food, restaurants, cafes and takeaways are encouraged to consider the needs of their customers and can choose to provide information on carbohydrate content.”

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