Let us not be fooled by the data on the consumption of products "Free from", those without one or more ingredients, such as yeast, gluten, sale, lactose, Palm oil, sugar added, dyes, preservatives, grassi hydrogenated and so on.
The fifth edition of the country's Imagine Nielsen GS1 Observatory, a photograph of the average village shopping cart, says that foods "without" show a slowdown: after closing 2021 with an annual growth of + 2,3%, in 2021 sales stopped at + 0,1%.
"These data must be interpreted correctly," he specifies Marco Cuppini, research and communication director of GS1 of the country. "The trend is slowing down because the more traditional and popular slogans, such as" without preservatives "," without dyes "or" without hydrogenated fats "are progressively abandoned by companies in favor of others of greater appeal, such as the emerging" without antibiotics " for meat or eggs ». Result: the "free from" still like. It's a lot. They are just changing numbers and faces on the shelves.
Because they like them
«Apart from the cases in which it is necessary to consume them for ascertained health reasons, their success is due to distrust with which, for some years now, consumers have been approaching food, valued more for what it doesn't have compared to what it contains », he comments Giorgio Donegani, food technologist, nutrition and food education expert. «Very often the "Without" is considered a synonym of quality: the absence of an ingredient, highlighted on the packaging, reassures and suggests healthier, lighter and more natural products ». However, this ends up depriving the consumer of responsibility: "Label some ingredients as bad it puts the blame for illnesses and ailments on them, making us forget that well-being is the result of a general lifestyle, based on a balanced diet, on the right level of physical activity and on satisfying relationships ».
Sometimes "without" is worse
The main feature of food “free from” it is the absence of something, which can sometimes be replaced with other ingredients with the same purpose (for example: to preserve, emulsify, sweeten or thicken). "This is the case with gluten, which allows the bread to rise, the dough to resist cooking, the dough to be softer », Donegani lists. "Foods that lack it are often added with dietary fiber, vegetable gums, seed flours or other thickeners, but often the result is a more caloric nutritional profile, richer in fat and less protein».
Furthermore, a gluten-free diet (in the absence of a precise medical indication) seems to damage the intestinal microbiota, decreasing the good bacteria in favor of the pathogenic ones. "In general, suddenly banishing from the table a substance we are used to can create imbalances in the body and this especially applies to milk, eggs and flour, milestones of healthy nutrition », warns the expert.
"Furthermore, beyond the single ingredient, most "free from" foods require more elaborate production processes and this affects health, because the increased processing of a food can affect the sense of satiety, the content of microelements and even the absorption of many substances ».
Also foods labeled as "no added sugar" they may present critical issues. If we read the ingredients list, it is quite common to find the indication of instead of the common sugar alternative sweeteners (such as sorbitol, mannitol, maltitol, lactitol, xylitol and erythritol), which several studies have linked to an increased risk of type 2 diabetes and metabolic dysfunction because they undermine the body's ability to regulate itself correctly and push you to eat more, especially fatty foods. "Also the fructose it should be viewed with suspicion », Donegani observes. "Often used to sweeten yogurt and many packaged products, we think it is safe because it is naturally present in fruit: in reality, even if it is metabolized differently from glucose, it is not healthier than normal sugar and, in excess, it risks triggering mechanisms similar to those of alcohol in the liver».
Sometimes "without" is useless
There are cases, however, where the "Free from" may have reasonableness. “For example, when to be absent are non-essential technological aids: dyes, preservatives or flavor enhancers, such as monosodium glutamate ", says the doctor Elena Dogliotti, nutrition biologist and scientific supervisor for the Umberto Veronesi Foundation.
«For the rest we must not let ourselves go to easy enthusiasm. We think about the growth of products without yeast, accused of provoking swelling, intestinal problems and a sense of heaviness: actually, these disorders are not always associated with nutrition, because their onset can be affected by stress, inflammatory states, poor rest and numerous other factors.
Yet, in recent years, it has started an exhausting hunt for allergies and intolerances, in an attempt or perhaps in the hope of motivate their discomfort, but also to justify overweight and obesity ». The problem is that, except for lactose and gluten, there are no scientifically validated tests to establish an effective food intolerance: therefore, in the absence of specific medical indications, choosing the "free from" could prove useless. “And above all it is important do not restrict your choices too much at the table to avoid nutritional deficiencies », recommends Dogliotti.
We need a traffic light on the label
Soon, the"traffic light" labelCalled Nutri score, already used in France, Belgium and Spain: "This provides a nutritional score to the product thanks to a sort of traffic light, consisting of five spaces with letters and colors: A green, B light green, C yellow, D orange, E red », explains Dr. Dogliotti.
A bit like home appliances, sorted from class A to D according to the level of efficiency, foods could also have an overall score on the label, considering the presence of ingredients and nutrients to be limited, such as simple sugars and salt, but also those that are positive for health, such as fiber. “If it were to land in some country too, maybe this one “Report card” may be more useful for the consumer than evaluating a single ingredient, but always taking into account that they are the amount to make a difference. However valid, a food judged as good, like any “free from” food, must not encourage people to consume it freely because it is lighter ».
No to antibiotics
On many egg and meat packages, the wording "without antibiotics". In this case, the absence in the entire production chain is important: the real danger of these drugs, in fact, is not so much the minimum quantities that can persist in food, but the possibility that their massive and improper use favors the development of super bacteria in farms; alarming and dangerous scenario.