The World’s Healthiest Packaged Food? British, Says a New Study

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Forget fish and chips, sticky toffee pudding, and that fat-heavy full English breakfast combination known colloquially as the “heart attack special.” No one is going to claim that foods like those are part of a healthy national cuisine.

But a new study published in the journal Obesity Reviews, comparing packaged foods and drinks from 11 countries and the Chinese administrative region of Hong Kong, has determined that — on the basis of those items — the healthiest food in the world is British.

The study, conducted by Australia’s George Institute for Global Health, analyzed more than 400,000 packaged food and drink products from Australia, Canada, Chile, China, India, Hong Kong, Mexico, New Zealand, Slovenia, South Africa, the UK, and the U.S. (None of these, interestingly, is considered among either the most or least healthy countries in the world.)

The combined offerings of each country were given scores according to the Health Star Rating system, an Australian scale awarding one-half to five stars to products based on their nutritional profile. The system considers the levels of calories, salt, sugar, saturated fat, protein, calcium, and fiber.

When the results were tabulated and compared, the UK had the highest average Health Star Rating, at 2.83. Next came the U.S. at 2.82 and Australia at 2.81. The lowest rating was India’s at 2.27. The next lowest rating was Hong Kong’s, at 2.37, followed closely by China’s, at 2.43 and Chile’s, at 2.44.

“The finding that packaged foods and beverages are consistently less healthy in countries such as China and India compared with higher income countries is a serious cause for concern,” according to the report.

On the bright side, say the study’s authors, “Many of the world’s large food and beverage manufacturers…have made pledges to reduce levels of nutrients of concern such as sodium, saturated fat and sugar.”

This might be a good time to reassess the foods and drinks you only think are healthy.