`Italian Politicians Condemn Nutri-Score As Antithetical to MedDiet - Olive Oil Times

Italian Politicians Condemn Nutri-Score As Antithetical to MedDiet

By Paolo DeAndreis
Feb. 21, 2022 16:21 UTC

Italian politi­cians con­tin­ued their cam­paign to derail the adop­tion of Nutri-Score as the European Union’s offi­cial front-of-pack label­ing (FOPL) sys­tem at a recent series of events.

Italian offi­cials once again crit­i­cized Nutri-Score as an overly sim­plis­tic way to eval­u­ate food nutri­tion.

Italy is against food pack­age label­ing founded on traf­fic-light sys­tems, such as Nutri-Score, which arise from a sim­plis­tic approach to nutri­tion with­out clear sci­en­tific evi­dence.- Luigi Di Maio, Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs

They again argued that the French-born FOPL only takes macronu­tri­ent con­tents into account and ignores micronu­tri­ents – such as vit­a­mins, min­er­als and polyphe­nols – which are respon­si­ble for some foods’ con­sid­er­able health ben­e­fits.

The offi­cials fur­ther accused Nutri-Score of mis­lead­ing con­sumers and directly attack­ing the Mediterranean diet. Instead, the offi­cials lob­bied to adopt Nutrinform Battery, the Italian alter­na­tive that has also been widely crit­i­cized by its detrac­tors.

See Also:Health Professionals in France Endorse Widespread Adoption of Nutri-Score

The two plat­forms are com­pet­ing to become the E.U.-wide stan­dard for food labels, with the European Commission set to deter­mine by the end of the year.

Italy is against food pack­age label­ing founded on traf­fic-light sys­tems, such as Nutri-Score, which arise from a sim­plis­tic approach to nutri­tion with­out clear sci­en­tific evi­dence,” Luigi Di Maio, the Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs, told an audi­ence of Italian sci­en­tists, farm­ers asso­ci­a­tions, food pro­duc­ers asso­ci­a­tions and national and European politi­cians.

For instance, these sys­tems’ algo­rithms could attribute to nat­ural foods such as milk worst rat­ings than those given to sugar-free car­bon­ated sodas,” he added.

The event, orga­nized by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the food pro­duc­ers asso­ci­a­tion Federalimentare, was sup­ported by the major food and farm­ing asso­ci­a­tions and sev­eral health groups devoted to the fight against obe­sity.

Michele O. Carruba, pro­fes­sor and pres­i­dent of the Center for Research on Obesity at the University of Milan, said that FOPLs, such as Nutri-Score, are not the answer to the obe­sity epi­demic.

Carruba has exam­ined 50 years’ worth of data regard­ing obe­sity world­wide. He said the chronic ill­ness has com­plex social and nutri­tional causes.

Carruba believes that cat­e­go­riz­ing foods as good” or bad” does not ade­quately address the under­ly­ing causes of obe­sity. Instead, he believes con­cepts such as the Mediterranean diet are bet­ter suited to com­bat­ing obe­sity.

“[The Mediterranean diet pyra­mid shows] there are no bad or good foods, but only bad or good diets,” he said. The pyra­mid not only tells us how often we should eat spe­cific kind of foods, but it also cites the sug­gested serv­ings, the quan­ti­ties which allow a bal­anced diet.”

According to Carruba, one of Nutri-Score’s most sig­nif­i­cant short­com­ings is that it does not con­sider the por­tion sizes. Instead, Nutri-Score rat­ings are deter­mined by the con­tent of fats, sug­ars, sodium and calo­ries per 100 grams or mil­li­liters of a food item.

Carruba said that such stan­dard quan­ti­ties do not reflect the actual con­sump­tion and there­fore can­not rate foods effi­ciently.

None of us would use 100 grams of olive oil since the com­mon serv­ing ranges between 15 or 30 grams,” he said. Still, olive oil is rated on a 100 grams basis.”


Carruba also believes Nutri-Score focuses more on the unfa­vor­able con­tents of food than on its healthy qual­i­ties.

Its algo­rithm attrib­utes up to 40 neg­a­tive points for con­tents with unfa­vor­able effects and only 15 points at the most for the favor­able part,” he said.


Nutri-Score, whose color-let­ter labels range from the healthy Green A” down to the Red E,” rates food as good or bad, said Carruba, whereas the effect of food depends on the quan­tity and the fre­quency with which it is con­sumed.”

The Italian sci­en­tist empha­sized the rel­e­vance of proper nutri­tion and told del­e­gates that Nutri-Score is merely inter­pre­ta­tive and non-edu­ca­tional, non-infor­ma­tive sys­tem, as it does not improve the con­sumer’s knowl­edge or nutri­tional infor­ma­tion.”


Furthermore, it does not pro­vide any assis­tance in decid­ing the over­all diet com­po­si­tion, nor does it facil­i­tate in any way the appro­pri­ate com­bi­na­tion of var­i­ous foods,” he added.

Vincenzo Salvatore, a pro­fes­sor of European law at the University of Insubria in Varese, said E.U. reg­u­la­tions describe two dif­fer­ent kinds of food sup­ple­men­tary infor­ma­tion that may be given to the con­sumer.

The first is addi­tional infor­ma­tion about the food itself. The sec­ond is the health claims, which sug­gest a cor­re­la­tion between a par­tic­u­lar food and health.

Health claims come from an esti­mate about the favor­able or unfa­vor­able effects of a given food,” Salvatore said. Any such assess­ment means that the con­sumers are being prompted with a given behav­ior.”

According to Salvatore, Nutrinform Battery focuses on the infor­ma­tion about food and the rel­e­vance of a sin­gle serv­ing to an over­all daily diet with its graphic scheme.


On the other hand, Nutri-Score is a health claim sys­tem which does not seem to be able to edu­cate the con­sumers about a healthy diet,” Salvatore said. Instead, it prompts the con­sumer to buy a given prod­uct or dis­card another prod­uct based on an appre­ci­a­tion of its impact on health.”

One thing is to edu­cate the con­sumer show­ing that if you buy a choco­late bar and eat a piece of that you will eat 30 grams of sugar, a dif­fer­ent thing is to put on that bar a red traf­fic-light label say­ing that you should not buy it at all,” he added.

Nutri-Score cre­ator Serge Hercberg, a pro­fes­sor of nutri­tion at the Université Sorbonne Paris-Nord, told Olive Oil Times that the lat­est Italian crit­i­cisms directed toward the French-born front-of-pack label­ing sys­tem do not stand.

Nutri-Score has never been pre­sented as a mea­sure that in itself might be the answer to the obe­sity epi­demic,” he said. Instead, it can play a role among the mea­sures imple­mented by a pub­lic health nutri­tional pol­icy.”

It is not a magic bul­let, but as it has been demon­strated by sev­eral sci­en­tific stud­ies pub­lished in peer-reviewed jour­nals, Nutri-Score could poten­tially con­tribute to reduc­ing obe­sity, chronic dis­ease and mor­tal­ity,” he added.

Herberg empha­sized his sup­port for the Mediterranean diet, which he said: has been the basis of the French nutri­tional rec­om­men­da­tions for many years.” Hercberg also reit­er­ated how Nutri-Score is totally con­sis­tent with MedDiet.”

The goal of Nutri-Score is to help con­sumers com­pare the over­all nutri­tional qual­ity of foods that are rel­e­vant to be com­pared or else com­pa­ra­ble in terms of use or con­sump­tion pat­terns.- Serge Herberg, Nutri-Score cre­ator

The MedDiet is char­ac­ter­ized by abun­dant con­sump­tion of fruit, veg­eta­bles, legumes, cere­als, espe­cially whole­grain, mod­er­ate con­sump­tion of fish and lim­ited con­sump­tion of dairy prod­ucts and low con­sump­tion of meat, cold cuts and sweet, fatty and salty prod­ucts,” he said.

It favors olive oil among added fats but does not rec­om­mend its con­sump­tion ad libi­tum,” Herberg added. The Mediterranean diet does not, there­fore, under any cir­cum­stances, as the Italian argu­ments sug­gest, pro­mote cheeses and processed meats, whether Italian or not.”

Herberg also pointed out that many stud­ies con­firm the sci­ence behind the devel­op­ment and deploy­ment of Nutri-Score. For exam­ple, he cited epi­demi­o­log­i­cal stud­ies from France (SUVIMAX, NutriNet-Santé), Spain (SUN and ERICA cohorts) and Europe.

Herberg also refuted the idea that the Nutri-Score algo­rithm does not rate foods as bad or good.

It is a grad­ual FOPL with five cat­e­gories pre­sented in col­ors and let­ters, which allow con­sumers to com­pare the nutri­tional qual­ity of foods in rel­a­tive terms and not in absolute value,” he said.

The goal of Nutri-Score is to help con­sumers com­pare the over­all nutri­tional qual­ity of foods that are rel­e­vant to be com­pared or else com­pa­ra­ble in terms of use or con­sump­tion pat­terns,” he added.

According to Hercberg, focus­ing on 100 grams or mil­li­liters instead of a sin­gle serv­ing of spe­cific foods is based on both con­cep­tual, prag­matic, sci­en­tific and pub­lic health argu­ments.”

What is use­ful for con­sumers is to be able to com­pare dif­fer­ent break­fast cere­als, to iden­tify those with the best nutri­tional qual­ity,” he added. Or to com­pare dif­fer­ent veg­etable oils or other added fats, or com­pare dif­fer­ent cheeses, dif­fer­ent piz­zas and dif­fer­ent cook­ies.”

Finally, for a spe­cific occa­sion of con­sump­tion, let us say break­fast, it is help­ful for con­sumers to be able to com­pare the dif­fer­ences of nutri­tional qual­ity between foods usu­ally con­sumed at this occa­sion: bread, as refined-grain or whole-grain bread, brioches, break­fast cere­als, cook­ies or rusks,” Herberg con­tin­ued.

Therefore, Hercberg said, a sim­ple, objec­tive and stan­dard­ized com­mon denom­i­na­tor” is needed to allow con­sumers to rec­og­nize at a glance food that exhibits the most favor­able nutri­tional com­po­si­tion com­pared to oth­ers.

According to Hercberg, a stan­dard serv­ing does not exist as it depends on many vari­ables such as age, sex and other con­di­tions of the con­sumers.

Many stud­ies have shown that con­sumers have dif­fi­culty to assess the amount cor­re­spond­ing to a serv­ing accu­rately,” he con­cluded.


Related Articles