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Fatty, sweet and salty just can't be healthy

18/2005, 13.06.2005

Nutritionists believe that nutritional profiles are a suitable criterion for assessing the reliability of health claims

For some time now advertising for foods has no longer concentrated solely on the flavour merits of a product. Numerous consumers now have a “healthy diet” on their shopping list. This means that, in future, wording like “reduces the risk of heart attacks” could become persuasive arguments for buying a product. On the European level the legislative framework for health claims of this nature is currently being established. The Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) staged an expert meeting on this very subject. The goal was to discuss the scientific foundation for nutritional profiles. The nutritionists agreed that nutritional profiles could be a criterion for determining the admissibility of health claims.

In July 2003 the European Commission submitted a Proposal for a Regulation containing provisions governing nutrition and health claims made on foods. One aspect of this proposal is the formulation of so-called nutritional profiles. They constitute a cross-section of health-relevant dietary components for the characterisation of a food. Nutritional profiles should be used as the criterion for determining the admissibility of advertising which uses health-related statements, so-called health claims. In the opinion of experts, they should include both desirable and undesirable nutrients from the nutritional-medical point of view.

This is what it could look like in practice: a loaf of bread supplemented with Omega 2 fatty acids has been proven to lower cholesterol levels. This property could be the subject of a health claim. At the same time, however, the nutritional profile shows that the product has an above-average salt content. This could lead to a ban on health claims despite the product’s proven cholesterol-lowering effect. The nutritional profile should, therefore, be used to prevent advertising for “unhealthy“ products and to protect the consumer from misleading claims.

“When formulating nutritional profiles, consideration should be given to the links between specific nutrients and the risk of food-related diseases like obesity and the associated secondary diseases, high blood pressure, coronary heart disease, some forms of cancer, osteoporosis and caries”, says BfR nutritionist and coordinator of the expert meeting, Dr. Rolf Großklaus. The selection of nutrients for the profiles should be coupled with clear evidence of their respective effects. Another factor to be borne in mind is the nutrient supply situation. If there is an undersupply for a specific nutrient, then it could be deemed to be a desirable component. The experts are also of the opinion that the contribution of specific groups of foods to overall energy supply via diet is relevant for the differentiated formulation of the nutritional profiles.

The experts discussed saturated and trans-fatty acids as well as levels of fat, sugar and common salt as potentially “undesirable” food components with regard to the nutritional profiles. Multi-unsaturated fats, roughage and folic acid could be considered as possible “desirable” constituents for the profiles.

Nutritionists and doctors from national and international research institutions and public authorities attended the expert meeting staged by BfR on 6 and 7 June 2005. The results are summed up in a position paper. There are plans to continue this work in working groups who will focus on specific issues to do with this subject.


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