EFSA flags excess and deficiency in EU diets to guide imminent mandatory nutrition labeling
20 Apr 2022 --- The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has concluded that saturated fats, sodium and added sugar intakes exceed dietary recommendations in most European populations. Energy also needs to be reduced, considering the high level of obesity in Europe.
EFSA identified a lack of dietary fiber and potassium contributing to adverse health effects in European populations. Iron, calcium, vitamin D, folate and iodine intakes are too low in specific sub-populations.
The findings will help the European Commission (EC) develop an EU-wide front-of-pack nutrition labeling scheme. The EC intends to propose a harmonized nutrition labeling and food claims system by the end of 2022 as part of its Farm to Fork Strategy.
Importantly, EFSA did not evaluate or propose a particular nutrient profiling model, as this was not within the scope of the EC’s request.
Nutrients and non-nutrients of interest
Public health impact drove EFSA to prioritize the profiling of certain nutrients (such as protein and fat) and non-nutrients (such as energy and fiber). This was largely determined by their adverse effects on health when there was excessive or inadequate intake.
Nutrient profiling not only has implications in the grocery aisle. It can also apply to future advertising restrictions to children, nutrition education and product reformulation.
Some nutrients were exceptionally selected for the profiling framework without sufficient data to show European populations are deficient in them.
For example, omega 3 labeling can help prioritize the consumption of fatty fish, which is recommended in several European countries’ national dietary recommendations.
Fatty fish consumption falls within dietary patterns associated with lower incidences of chronic diseases, such as the Mediterranean and New Nordic diets.
Olive oil was also given special consideration, a move championed by Spain, who previously called for the ingredient to have a special status in the Nutri-Score’s algorithm.
Informed and engaged
EFSA’s opinion is based on systematic reviews and meta‐analyses of human studies on nutritionally adequate diets.
It also used data from the Global Burden of Disease framework, clinical practice guidelines, previous EFSA opinions and the priorities set by EU Member States in the context of their Food‐Based Dietary Guidelines and associated nutrient/food intake recommendations.
Moreover, EFSA held a public consultation on the draft opinion from November 2021 to January 2022. This generated 529 comments from 83 organizations and individuals in 21 countries.
Ana Afonso, head of the nutrition and food innovation unit at ESFA, says: “Our scientists examined every comment and considered every question. The input helped us to clarify our assessment’s scope and delineate more precisely our scientific contribution from factors outside EFSA’s remit.”
Assessing national guidelines
EFSA’s research also looked across the variations of European dietary recommendations to see what similarities exist across the continent.
The agency found that most countries promoted the consumption of whole grains, fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, fat-reduced milk and dairy products, fish and water.
They also encourage regular consumption of legumes and pulses partially replacing meat (particularly red meat and processed meat), and the consumption of vegetable oils rich in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats (e.g. olive, sunflower, corn and rapeseed oils).
Discouraged foods consisted of fats high in saturates, such as palm and coconut oils, butter and other animal fats. Food products high in sugars or sodium owing to food processing were also generally flagged as unhealthy.
Need for harmonization
As EU countries tackle obesity on a national scale, a patchwork of labeling systems has come to the fore.
The Nutri-Score labeling system initially emerged in France and has since been voluntarily accepted by brands in several European countries.
Meanwhile, traffic light front-of-pack labeling in the UK is common but still voluntary. The now non-European country is also gearing up to implement marketing restrictions for foods deemed high in fat, salt and sugar this October.
By Missy Green
This feature is provided by FoodIngredientsFirst’s sister website, NutritionInsight.
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