But before you reach for that Twinkie, take a pause.
Because different varieties of packaged food proved to contain wildly different nutrient profiles, which means that some convenience-options are more health-supportive than others.
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The study, conducted for the next issue of World Obesity Journal, compared the healthiness of packaged foods and beverages from 12 countries across the globe using the Health Star Rating (HSR) nutrient profiling system.
Nutrient profiling is the science of classifying foods and drinks according to their nutritional composition, for reasons connected to preventing disease and promoting optimal health. The HSR is one of the most widely used nutrient profile models used today. The system consists of scores that are converted to a ‘Health Star Rating’ from ½ (least healthy) to 5 (most healthy) stars in ½ star increments.
The study rated baseline points for energy, saturated fat, total sugars, and sodium content per 100 g; and modifying points for FVNL (fruit, vegetable, nut, and legume) content, protein, and fibre where applicable. Overall scores were calculated by subtracting modifying points from baseline ones, and HSRs were assigned from there.
Canada, the UK, Australia, and the USA had the highest-ranked mean HSR for all foods and beverages combined (2.74 to 2.83), while Hong Kong, Chile, India, and China had the lowest (2.27 to 2.44).
HSR rankings differed when foods and beverages were separated out, though, which is where it can be noted that Canada’s packaged food is particularly high in sodium. We ranked with the highest median sodium content of all countries studied, with 291 mg per 100 g.
For all countries, “meat and meat alternatives” contained the highest median sodium content, followed by “snack foods,” and “sauces, dressings, spreads, and condiments.” The lowest sodium was found in “edible oils,” with 0 per 100 g.
Also noteworthy for Canada, our products were ranked with the lowest median saturated fat content, and second-lowest median sugar content. Products listed under “sugars, honey, and related products” contained the highest median sugar content, unsurprisingly. Next in line were “confectionery” and “bread and bakery products.”
While the categories of “fruit, vegetables, nuts, and legumes,” and “eggs” held the highest mean HSR across the board, the level of healthiness notably differed depending on the region. In India, for example, fruit, vegetables, nuts, and legume products had a mean HSR of 2.94, while the same category in Mexico had a mean HSR of 3.97.
Canada’s rankings for those categories are 3.43 and 3.90, respectively, which are the highest rankings for the country’s packaged food across the board.
So while overall, our quick-pick options are better for us here than they may be elsewhere, opting for snacks that revolve around fruits, veggies, nuts, legumes, and eggs is the best bet for your health.
But you probably already knew that.