Free-from Foods are Healthier - Study

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Researchers from Switzerland’s ETH Zurich and the Brussels-based European Food Information Council wanted to find out how various free-from labels such as lactose-free, gluten-free, GM-free, and palm oil-free shape perceptions of foods.  They found that products bearing a free-from label were considered healthier than products without such a label, with the strongest effects occurring for labels indicating that products were free of GMO’s and free of palm oil. The study was partially funded by the European Palm Oil Alliance but the authors say the Alliance had no involvement in the data analysis and interpretation. 
The researchers recruited almost 2000 French, Swedish, British and Polish individuals and asked them questions on their nutrition knowledge, general interest in health, trust in the food industry, preference for food naturalness and how much information they looked for on product packaging.  Participants were then shown online images of products both with and without free-from labels. They saw bread, pasta and cookies for the gluten-free logo; cheese, milk and yohurt for lactose-free; oil, corn and chocolate for GM-free; and margarine, chocolate spread and chocolate for palm oil-free.  Each food product was commercially available food in each country and all respondents were the primary or joint primary grocery shoppers in their households.  
Results showed not all nationalities had the same free-from perceptions.  Both Polish and French participants saw GMO-free products as healthier compared with Swedish and British respondents while Polish respondents also rated gluten-free products more positively than the other countries. Perhaps unsurprisingly, French respondents were most receptive to palm-oil free and GM-free claims. The researchers suggested this may be due to French government policy. 

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