SINGAPORE – You may have seen the Healthier Choice Symbol in supermarkets – the red pyramid that identifies healthier food and drink.
The Health Promotion Board’s Healthier Choice scheme now applies to 3,500 products – a tenfold increase from when it was launched in 2001.
One in five food products bears the Healthier Choice label. It can even be seen on ice creams, soft drinks and frozen french fries.
With so many products bearing the red pyramid icon, do you know how to use it to make the right food choices?
Here are five handy tips.
1. The “healthier” choice is not necessarily the “healthy” choice
Do not make the mistake of thinking that all foods with the Healthier Choice symbol are intrinsically healthy. The symbol is meant to identify foods that are generally healthier than others on the market.
This could be because they are lower in sugar, sodium, or saturated fat. They could also be higher in wholegrains and calcium, or be trans fat-free.
2. Compare with other products from the same category
Some products may not have the Healthier Choice symbol, even though they have similar nutritional values as those that do.
For example, the FairPrice brand of frozen straight-cut french fries, which contain 33mg of sodium per 100g, has the Healthier Choice label. But the Lamb Weston brand, which has only 30mg of sodium for the same portion of fries, does not.
This could be because they are new on the market, or from foreign manufacturers that did not apply for the symbol, said Mr Louis Yap, a dietitian from Parkway East Hospital.
3. If in doubt, look for qualifying statements
In addition to the healthier choice symbol, some products have a short qualifying statement. For example, on a tin of sardines this could look something like “25 per cent lower in sodium than regular canned sardines”.
“This statement should be extended to all the healthier choice products over time,” said associate professor Lau Geok Theng, who is from the National University of Singapore business school’s marketing department.
4. Read the nutrition labels
If you want to know exactly how much healthier your food is, your best bet is to scrutinise the nutrition label carefully. This will usually also give you a good idea of what ingredients are used and if it contains any artificial flavouring or preservatives.
5. It’s all right to indulge once in a while
Certain snack foods such as ice cream and french fries may also bear the Healthier Choice symbol. While this doesn’t mean that you should eat them at every meal, it does provide a guide for those who want to choose the healthier snack option. Very few foods are “absolutely evil”, said Health Promotion Board chief executive Zee Yoong Kang. “You can occasionally indulge; just don’t overdo it – and when you do it, try to go for the lighter version,” he said.