The infant feeding sector has always been one of the most controversial in the world of food. And it is not for less, since the consumption of food from the early stages of life has a key importance in the subsequent development and health of human beings.
If we take a look at the children’s food proposals offered by the large supermarket chains, we find that stops very bad from the nutritional point of view. However, yesterday we learned from the hand of the dietitian-nutritionist, food technologist and disseminator Aitor Sánchez (@midietacojea) that Carrefour had launched a new range of children’s products on the market, with the professional advice of the disseminator himself on food.
Thus, From Vitónica we have contacted Aitor Sánchez to tell us how this initiative has been carried out, what has been his role as an advisor in the reformulation of these products and also what difficulty this whole process has entailed until the launch of the new line of children’s products is achieved.
What is food reformulation?
Hearing about ‘reformulation’ may sound like Chinese to most people. However, this process is quite common in the usual work of innovation and development of new products carried out by the food industry. What has not been so common is that these changes are led by a dietitian-nutritionist externally, but we’ll talk about that later.
« We have sat down to analyze the current panorama of the infant feeding and we have raised which would be the ideal nutrients to include in the feeding of a child », declares Aitor when asking him how this reformulation process was carried out.
The specialist also highlights that he has made several healthy proposals getting some of them implemented: « I feel that my initiatives have been heard a lot, but you have to understand that they will not implement all the ideas that I give them. However, this reformulation of pots has been carried out, which means a revolution in the children’s line that we currently find in the supermarket ”.
And it is not for less, since the majority of children’s products have been in the spotlight for years due to the high composition of added sugars that they present, either in the form of fruit juice or dextrinated cereals, for example, in the case of the porridge
The hardest part of the reformulation process
According to Aitor himself, sometimes it can be difficult to get the health recommendations to the industry correctly: « Whenever I reformulate products I hope that the proposals are taken seriously, and that do not perceive them as madness« .
This uncertainty is more than reasonable, since a food business has as its main purpose the sale of products, and that must be kept in mind. However healthy a food may be, if it is not finally accepted by the public, it is not profitable for the company that markets it and is therefore eliminated from the supermarket lines. Consumers themselves must also be aware of this, and understand that thanks to our purchasing decisions we influence more than we believe in the decisions of the food industry.
Fruit jars, food jars and porridge: three healthy lines of children’s products
If we delve into the nutritional quality of Carrefour’s new children’s products, effectively we found notable improvements with respect to the ingredients that offer other brands in their formulation.
Regarding fruit jars, we highlight the elimination of fruit juices as a sweetener. Only one reference contains lemon juice in its composition, used for the technological purpose of preventing browning or darkening of the product. Otherwise, fruit jars only contain crushed fruit, forming a fairly healthy product to include in infant feeding.
If we refer to the range of baby food pots, we find the main advantage of including full servings of protein and vegetables, offering options with fish, meat and legumes, being suitable for vegetarian and vegan population and perfectly compatible in a conventional diet. In addition, these jars have been formulated without salt, with EVOO and are steamed, far exceeding the nutritional quality of other children’s products where excess starches, rice and filling starches flood the container.
Finally, in relation to children’s porridge, Aitor emphasizes that this group of products they should occupy a secondary place within the baby’s diet, since they contain a lower nutrient composition of interest than the previous references. With regard to the improvements, the elimination of added sugar as well as that of hydrolyzed or dextrinated cereals, components that have been predigested, and in practice also behave like added sugar.
Does a disseminator lose credibility to certain conflicts of interest?
When asked if it is possible for this type of collaboration to harm his image as an informant, Aitor is blunt: « I think that This type of collaboration puts you in the spotlight, especially in my case, since I am a very combative person with conflicts of interest and bad industry practices. «
Within the scientific world, conflicts of interest refer to possible agreements or labor relations of a person with specific companies. In addition, this term usually has a negative connotation, since it is assumed that these conflicts of interest can modify and tarnish the work of a healthcare professional. In this sense, Aitor states that « The problem of conflicts of interest is not to have them, but to hide them and make you tell lies and change reality. Also, I think I have a privileged position because I am able to work for the industry while maintaining a very critical stance against it. «
Regarding whether he is worried about criticism, Aitor also does not hesitate: « my message has not changed as a result of the collaboration with Carrefour, in fact, I keep saying the same old phrases, like ‘people should buy more in the market than in the supermarket‘ »says the nutritionist.
Is it important that these jars are BIO?
Once explained that this range of products is a healthy option, we must mention some points that could be controversial regarding the labeling of reformulated products.
On the cover of the product, we can find a ‘BIO’ mention that stands out remarkably above the rest of the terms. Therefore, we have asked Aitor about whether it is important that these products are BIO or organic: « That these pots are BIO is not important. We know that an organic food does not necessarily have to be healthier than a conventional one, but it is true that the ecological tends to meet high quality standards that the families themselves ask of the distribution chains, and these products are an example of this, « says the specialist.
The dietitian-nutritionist also confesses that he would have liked that these products were also in conventional format, and not only in ecological format. As we have said on occasion, the ecological does not necessarily have to be better. Even so, it is true that there is a certain sector of the population that perceives it, which produces a demand for ‘BIO’ products in the supermarket. This undeniable fact, taken together, can translate into higher quality food consumption, although it is no guarantee of that.
« Additives are not necessary in these children’s products »
Another issue that is of particular concern to some members of the scientific community is the ‘no additives’ labeling that we can see in these little containers. This rising trend is described as dangerous by many professionals, as it spreads an unjustified fear towards the use of additives, what we know as ‘chemophobia’.
“I don’t think the additives are dangerous in infant feeding, but the less the taste thresholds are modified at early development stages, the better. It is preferable that children get used to the flavors and colors conventional of a food ”, says Aitor Sánchez.
Their statements refer to some specific additives, such as dyes, however there are other additives such as preservatives that serve to improve food safety in some products. In relation to these children’s products, Aitor explains that they are not necessary, since « the product has a heat treatment that guarantees its safety ».
You can collaborate with the food industry and achieve healthy improvements
Without a doubt, we are facing an event that could set precedents in the field of scientific dissemination. Rarely, a healthcare professional and disseminator, working externally, has been instrumental in improving a product line for the food industry.
When asked if he has been aware of the precedent that this type of health collaboration could set, Aitor Sánchez explains the following: « I am aware that with me they also seek an impact of dissemination of all these campaigns beyond technical work , but I’m not obliged to promote Carrefour products. Still, I find it interesting to note that something very important for the health of the population has been achieved, so I feel comfortable if they ask me for interviews related to it, as has been the case. «
It seems that the food industry listens more and more to consumers, and therefore undertakes such interesting actions as the one we have told you today. Without a doubt, this is a very valuable proof that scientific dissemination can really help improve health of the population, and that the figures of the dietitian-nutritionist and the food technologist are key in our society.
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Images | Carrefour, iStock and Envato Elements