Which? uncovers dodgy omega 3 claimsInnacurate claims are confusing shoppers

25 October 2007

 

Fish lying on ice

Omega 3 from fish is more beneficial than from plants

Some food companies are cashing in on the hype surrounding omega 3 by making confusing claims about the nutrient, Which? says today.

Omega 3 is an essential fatty acid which has been touted in some quarters as a miraculous cure-all that can make your heart healthier and your kids brainier.

The best source of omega 3 is oily fish but parts of the food industry are adding it to everyday foods such as bread, fruit juice, yoghurt and baked beans.

We examined a range of foods that are promoted as containing, or being high in, omega 3  and tested their claims.

Oily fish

We found that labelling on Asda’s 400g Healthy wholegrain bread made statements about omega 3 that were wrong.

Asda claimed to be ‘using special linseed which has been heated in order to liberate the beneficial oils’.

But linseed oil is from a plant source and doesn't contain the most beneficial source of omega 3 - and exposure to heat can destroy the nutrient.

The label also claimed that four slices provide 31.3g of omega 3. But Which? tests revealed the loaf had just 0.009g per 100g of the type of omega 3 that’s proven to keep your heart healthy, so to get your daily amount of that type of omega 3 you'd have to eat just over 11 loaves a day.

Labels

We also found that the difference between the less beneficial, plant-based omega 3 and oily fish-based sources of omega 3 is rarely made clear on food labels.

For example, the label on So Good Soya Essential Omega 3 drink doesn't make it clear that the nutrient inside isn’t the type that’s proven to help keep your heart healthy.

Even labels on products with added fish oil often fail to make it clear how much you’d have to consume to get a useful amount of omega 3. People would need to drink one and a half litres every day of Tesco’s Healthy Living pomegranate juice to get a beneficial measure of omega 3.

Health claims

Which? Editor Neil Fowler said: ‘A good many food manufacturers are riding the money-making omega 3 wave by adding it to all sorts of foods and failing to mention that it may not be the right sort of omega 3 – or enough of it – to be as beneficial as simply eating oily fish.

‘We want to see food companies backing up the omega 3 health claims they make on labels, and the Food Standards Agency giving clearer advice on recommended levels.’

Asda to change label

Asda admitted a typing error with the claimed amount of omega 3 in four slices of its Healthy wholegrain bread. It agreed the label may be confusing and said it would withdraw the bread from sale while the packaging is redesigned.

A spokesman said: 'As soon as Which? brought this to our attention we took the bread off our shelves straight away.

'It was never our intention to mislead our customers into thinking this product was any healthier than it is. Unfortunately a printing error meant that the amount of omega 3 stated for eating four slices of bread was 31.3g - when in fact the correct amount is 1.26g.

'All other nutritional information provided on pack in relation to the amount of omega 3 was correct. Until we have sorted out the packaging the product will remain off sale.'