Nutrient Profiling aka HFSS – How Does it Work in Practice?
High fat, sugars and salt (HFSS) foods are under fire from the Government. Marketing of these so-called ‘less healthy’ or even ‘junk’ products, according to your slant, is being curtailed.
There are three main areas for retail that this affects:
1) product placement
2) product advertising and
3) product offers.
Foods that score 4 or more points and drinks that score one or more points are categorised as HFSS.
NutriCalc® nutrition software will calculate the HFSS score for your recipes.
This is an exercise aimed at product placement, advertising and promotion. It isn’t required to be published as part of nutrition labelling.
The October ’22 deadline for enforcement of advertising and offers that the government previously set has been deferred until further notice. Product placement restrictions, however, have not been deferred and the larger retailers have already started requesting the HFSS information in order to apply it to their product placements.
So, in practice then, how does the Nutrient Profile look? Products are allocated points for the so called ‘bad’ nutrients: energy, saturated fat, sugars and sodium. Points are then deducted for so called ‘good’ nutrients: protein and fibre. And finally, there is a points deduction for the quantity of fruit, vegetables and nuts that the product contains.
In essence, the higher the points, the less healthy your product is classified to be. Values used are ‘per 100g’ or ‘per 100mls’, and not ‘per serving’.
Let’s take a look at each of these parameters for six different products and see how it benefits or hurts the product’s Nutrient Profile.
HFSS scores given below for typical examples of certain products have been obtained from NutriCalc®.
Values in kilojoules (not kilocalories) are used in the calculations. Energy scores are between 0 and 10.
Total fats do affect the energy score though because for every 1g of fat in 100g of the product, the energy increases by 37kJ whereas for protein and carbohydrate, it’s only 17kJ. And for fibre, it’s 8kJ.
Because of the concentration, products containing substantial amounts of moisture are going to fare better than something that’s quite dry, even though you probably wouldn’t eat as much of the dried product or would rehydrate it before eating.
Here are some examples of energy values and their scores for energy:
Corn Flakes 1604kJ 4 points
Fruit pie 1491kJ 4 points
Croissant 1757kJ 5 points
Snack bar 1985kJ 5 points
Lasagne ready meal 587kJ 1 point
Milk chocolate 2232kJ 6 points
Pretzels 1535kJ 4 points
As mentioned above, there is no scoring for overall fat levels, only saturated fat. And saturated fat varies widely across different types of fat. Coconut contains probably the highest proportion of saturates in its fat. Palm oil also has quite high saturates. But there is comparatively little in sunflower oil and similar oils.
People have been advised against consuming saturated fats for some time. However, a lot of recent studies have called this into question. Nonetheless, labelling for saturates will inevitably remain mandatory for a considerable length of time.
Here are some examples of saturated fat values and their scores:
Corn Flakes 0.2g 0 points
Fruit pie 4.5g 4 points
Croissant 16.5g 10 points
Snack bar 18.8g 10 points
Lasagne ready meal 3.4g 3 point
Milk chocolate 18.1g 10 points
Pretzels 0.8g 0 points
There is no attempt to separate natural sugars, such as found in fruit or milk, from added sugars, such as sucrose or glucose syrup added to fizzy drinks or cakes.
Here are some examples of total sugars values and their scores:
Corn Flakes 8.1g 1 point
Fruit pie 23.0g 5 points
Croissant 5.8g 1 point
Snack bar 31.2g 7 points
Lasagne ready meal 2.4g 0 points
Milk chocolate 56.2g 10 points
Pretzels 2.1g 0 points
The Nutrient Profile uses sodium, not salt which is the stated value in the HFSS rules. In nutrition labelling, salt is normally taken to mean ‘salt-equivalent’, with a salt value calculated from the total sodium content. This is reasonable since sodium from all sources may cause ill-effects if consumed in excess.
Values for sodium must be expressed in milligrams.
Here are some examples of sodium values and their scores:
Corn Flakes 45mg 0 points
Fruit pie 124mg 1 point
Croissant 292mg 3 points
Snack bar 24mg 0 points
Lasagne ready meal 188mg 2 points
Milk chocolate 96mg 1 point
Pretzels 1720mg 10 points
The Nutrient Profile has limits for two types of fibre, NSP and AOAC. The AOAC limits are about a third higher than those for NSP. As AOAC Values are used for nutrition calculation and labelling throughout the UK, these values will normally be used in the Profile calculation.
Here are some examples of fibre values and their scores:
Corn Flakes 3.2g -3 points
Fruit pie 1.4g -1 point
Croissant 3.3g -3 points
Snack bar 5.0g -5 points
Lasagne ready meal 1.0g -1 point
Milk chocolate 2.1g -2 points
Pretzels 3.4g -3 points
Points for protein values may only be used if the total score for energy + saturates, sugars + salt is no more than ten, except if its score for fruit, veg and nuts (see below) is the maximum, five.
Here are some examples of protein values and their scores:
Corn Flakes 7.0g -4 points
Fruit pie 3.4g -2 points [but not eligible]
Croissant 7.9g -4 points [but not eligible]
Snack bar 6.6g -4 points [but not eligible]
Lasagne ready meal 8.3g -5 points
Milk chocolate 7.3g -4 points [but not eligible]
Pretzels 9.1g -5 points [but not eligible]
Fruit, veg and nuts
The definition of fruit, veg and nuts includes most vegetables, but not potatoes or other starchy vegetables. For nuts, coconut counts, but seeds do not.
Dried fruits and vegetables score more points than fresh ones and the calculation is slightly complicated.
Here are some examples of fruit, veg and nuts values and their scores:
Corn Flakes 0g 0 points
Fruit pie 15g 0 points
Croissant 0g 0 points
Snack bar 55g -1 point
Lasagne ready meal 40g -1 point
Milk chocolate 0g 0 points
Pretzels 0g 0 points
Here are the Nutrient Profile scores for the example foods:
Corn Flakes -2 points
Fruit pie 13 points
Croissant 16 points
Snack bar 16 points
Lasagne ready meal -1 point
Milk chocolate 25 points
Pretzels 11 points
Overall then, using the scoring system, only the corn flakes and the lasagne would be classified as ‘healthy’. The others would be classified as ‘less healthy’.
As with everything, there are trends and fashions with foods as much as anything else and these are often transient. Butter, which has previously been declared a ‘baddy’ has since been vilified as it isn’t over processed like some other fats which may be considered to be carcinogenic.
It’s clear that the government feel the need to address the obesity crisis. They clearly feel that reducing the prominent advertising and display of so called ‘unhealthy’ foods will reduce consumption and therefore obesity, however whether this is the right approach and will make any significant difference, remains to be seen.
Visit this page for more information on our NutriCalc HFSS Score Calculator.
David F. Bartley PhD