There is no such thing as ‘a healthy product’. No single product creates health on its own. To the extent that a product affects our individual health we must always view that effect in the context of lifestyle. What is a healthy lifestyle for one person may not be for another. Besides aspects like getting enough physical exercise and rest, a healthy diet is also an important component. Some products are better suited to a healthy diet than others. Questionmark can help you make the right decisions.
We follow the guidelines published in 2015 by the Gezondheidsraad (The Health Council of the Netherlands) to determine whether or not a particular product can be part of a healthy diet. These guidelines are very general, dealing with eating habits and types of food rather than individual products. The Netherlands Nutrition Centre has translated the Gezondheidsraad guidelines into the more practical Richtlijnen Schijf van Vijf (Wheel of Five) guidelines. Questionmark’s assessments are based on these guidelines.
The Wheel of Five guidelines divide food substances into three main categories:
Questionmark uses an icon to indicate food products that are part of the Wheel of Five. In addition, Questionmark has further subdivided “daily and weekly selections”. As a result, our classification looks like this:
The Wheel of Five guidelines categorize products by assessing whether their nutritional values comply with certain criteria. These criteria are almost always formulated in terms of thresholds, so if a particular nutritional value passes that threshold, the product is classified in the next category.
Each product group has different thresholds. For example, the criteria for vegetables are not the same as those for meat. Questionmark has formulated more fine-grained thresholds in order to make more precise distinctions within the categories of “daily selections” and “weekly selections”. To illustrate this, here are the thresholds for cheese:
You can find the exact thresholds for each product group in the document Grenswaarden gezondheid (Health Thresholds)
As the above makes clear, the nutritional values listed on products do not always provide us with sufficient information to be able to calculate their health score. First of all we have to determine in which product group a product belongs. In addition we have to establish the size of a normal portion of the product.
This document lists the inventory of product groups according to Voedingscentrum’s Food Choice Guidelines. Each group is defined and includes examples of its associated products.
Not all manufacturers include a definition of an ‘average serving’ on their product packaging. In order to establish serving sizes in these cases we follow, wherever possible, conventional serving sizes as determined by (European) manufacturers associations. This inventory lists those serving sizes.
If the size of the entire product is smaller than the standard serving size, we count the size of the product as one serving.
Manufacturers are obligated to list a number of nutritional values on their packaging, namely the proportion of fats (saturated and unsaturated), carbohydrates, proteins, fibre, salt (or sodium) and energy value in a product. Listing other nutritional values such as the proportion of trans fats or the amount of vitamins is not mandatory but is permitted.
So, sometimes a particular nutritional value required to calculate a product’s health value is not listed on the packaging. In such cases we rely on the 2013/4.0 online version of NEVO Nederlands Voedingsstoffenbestand (the Dutch Food Composition Database). The NEVO database is compiled by the Rijksinstituut voor Volksgezondheid en Milieu (Dutch National Institute for Public Health and the Environment) and includes average nutritional values for some 3000 common food products in the Netherlands.