Food labelling for the consumer

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For the consumer shopping and organizing meal plans for a family or singleton, understanding what is the 'right' fibre to eat can highlight the practical difficulties of interpreting food labels, although many consumers will be concerned about possible side effects of suddenly increasing fibre intake.

In 1998, the MAFF advised that, for the purpose of food labelling, fibre be defined as NSP in line with COMA's recommendations and that claims relating to fibre should also be based on this definition and on COMA's recommendation of a DRV of 18 g/day. In raising the fibre intake in the diet, there can be potential side effects in the first few months. These can be excessive wind, bloating and abdominal cramps which will gradually lessen, with many patients and consumers finding that constipation is relieved and that it is worth carrying on with the increased fibre intake. In increasing the fibre intake in the diet there are some points that should be followed:

• The Balance of Good Health (Health Education Authority, 1996) can provide a plan to follow to develop a well-balanced diet. A start is to move towards consuming more fruit, vegetables, breakfast cereal, potatoes, pasta, rice and bread.

• Consuming more NSPs can be easily organized by eating the correct breakfast cereals which should be wholegrain or bran enriched. Many people do not have breakfast or find that they do not have the time to eat breakfast. Although breakfast is an important meal and more encouragement should be made for people to start the day with a good breakfast, cereal can be eaten at any time of day and often people find that they can eat cereal in the evening before bedtime. Whatever time of day cereal is eaten, it can only help in the uptake of NSPs in the diet. The increase of NSPs in the diet should be done slowly over a period of time to avoid too much gastrointestinal disturbance.

• When fibre in the diet is increased, the fluid intake should increase correspondingly, drinking six to eight cups of water per day along with other fluid that is consumed normally. Most people drink inadequate amounts of water every day and often inadequate amounts of fluid in general, which can lead to headaches and constipation.

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