, Volume 46, Issue 2 Supplement, pp 4-14
Date: 13 Nov 2007

Nutritional characterisation of foods: Science-based approach to nutrient profiling

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Abstract

Background

The background of the workshop was the proposed EU legislation to regulate nutrition and health claims for foods in Europe. This regulation will require the development of a science-based nutrient profiling system in order to determine which foods or categories of foods will be permitted to make nutrition or health claims. Nutrient profiling can also be used to categorize foods, based on an assessment of their nutrient composition according to scientific principles. Today, various nutrient profiling schemes are available to classify foods based on their nutritional characteristics.

Aim

The aim of the workshop was to discuss the work developed by ILSI Europe’s expert group and to explore wider scientific aspects of nutrient profiling, including their relative effectiveness, strengths and weaknesses. In particular, the focus of the workshop was on scientific approaches to the development of nutrient profiles for the purpose of regulating nutrition and health claims. The 76 workshop participants were scientists from European academic institutions, research institutes, food standards agencies, food industry and other interested parties, all of whom contributed their thinking on this topic.

Results

The workshop reached a degree of agreement on several central points. Most participants favored a food category approach rather than an ‘across the board’ system for nutrient profiling. Most also felt that nutrient profiling schemes should focus on disqualifying nutrients, while taking into due account relevant qualifying nutrients. Levels of each nutrient should be clearly defined for all food categories to be profiled. Reference amounts selected for further considerations were: (1) per 100 g/100 ml, (2) legislated reference amounts, and (3) per 100 kcal. The majority of workshop participants agreed that nutrient profiling schemes should allow for a two-step decision process; step (1) identify which nutrients to take into account, and step (2) define the thresholds for these nutrients. All participants agreed that an objective validation should be conducted before implementation of nutrient profiling. This would include determination of sensitivity and specificity using “indicator foods” selected on their potential to affect major health issues. The management of any adopted system needs to allow it to be dynamic over time and revise the system when new scientific knowledge emerges.

Conclusions

The majority of participants favored a food category approach rather than an ‘across the board’ system. Further work is required to identify the final list of qualifying and disqualifying nutrients for any food category that may be identified and for the selection of optimal reference amounts. It is essential that key stakeholders continue to communicate and work together on the complex issues of nutrient profiling.

Jan de Vries: Now working for CSM