by Colwyn Elder (@colwynelder) Several months ago, I commended Woolworths for responsible retailing in its decision to remove sweets and confectionary from checkout queues in new/revamped stores. And, as my seven-year-old pointed out, the follow-through has been quick. However, he’s been equally quick to request the bag of chips that have replaced chocolate as a so-called “healthier alternative”.

Better food choices

Woolworths’ Good Food Journey is a drive to provide customers with better food choices, and post-engaging with customers on their preferred alternative snack options in checkout aisles, Woolworths says it’s replaced sweets and chocolates with options such as dried fruit, biltong, and nuts. It all sounds so positive, so why the chips? Not that I have anything against chips — there’s nothing better paired with a chilled beverage of your choice on a Friday afternoon — but it’s hardly healthier than scoffing a bag of Chuckles on the sofa while watching TV, right?

Let’s give the sugar a break and talk about salt.

Current medical thinking has been that that too much salt raises blood pressure, which creates an increased risk of health issues such as heart disease and stroke. If you want to know how much salt, you’re eating look at the label and multiply the sodium content by 2.5. Adults should eat no more than 6g of salt (2.4g of sodium) per day. This approximates to 1 teaspoon of salt and children under the age of 11 should consume even less.

Brand comparison

Woolworths claim to have reduced the salt content in over 100 of its own-brand products, resulting in a dramatic reduction of 35.2 tonnes of salt, so we decided to do a brand comparison:

  • WW plain salted chips: 1.3g salt (0.52g sodium)/100g
  • Lay’s salted chips: 1.9g salt (0.76 sodium)/100g
  • Flanagan’s sea salt chips: 3.0g salt (1.20g sodium)/100g

With less than half the salt content of Flanagan’s and a third-less salt than Lay’s, Woolworths appear to walk its talk. What’s more, I really do believe, you can taste the difference. But before you reach for chips in the WW checkout, read the list of ingredients, which goes beyond the expected (potatoes, oil, salt), to comprise a lengthy list of no less than seven ingredients, including maltodextrin, flavor enhancers and anti-caking agent.

Not rocket science

Healthy eating is not rocket science, and Michael Pollan’s new film, “In Defense of Food”, shows how common sense and old-fashioned wisdom can help us rediscover the pleasures of eating.

It also demonstrates how faulty nutrition science and deceptive marketing practices have encouraged us to replace real food with scientifically engineered “food-like substances”. Supermarkets are a major part of this, making increasingly processed foods more widely available and at relatively lower prices.

In contrast, the sustainability movement has encouraged supermarkets to reconnect people with the provenance of their food: where it comes from, how it’s grown and what’s in it [and that wonky shouldn’t be wasted — ed-at-large].

Very simple rules

I’m a big fan of Pollan, who successfully demystifies complex diets and conflicting health advice with some very simple rules:

  • Don’t eat anything with more than five ingredients, or ingredients you can’t pronounce;
  • Don’t eat anything your great grandmother wouldn’t recognise as food;
  • And don’t eat anything that won’t eventually rot.


Colwyn ElderStrategic consultant Colwyn Elder (@colwynelder) brings a global perspective to the issue of sustainability, having lived and worked in London, Tokyo, Amsterdam and Cape Town. She contributes the monthly “Green Sky Thinking” column on sustainability issues to MarkLives.

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