European Journal of Nutrition

, Volume 46, Supplement 2, pp 4–14 | Cite as

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

Summary report of an ILSI Europe workshop held in April 2006
  • Inge Tetens
  • Regina Oberdörfer
  • Carina Madsen
  • Jan de  Vries



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.


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.


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.


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.

Key words

nutrient profiling health claims food category across the board validation 

Glossary and abbreviations

‘Across the board’ system

Generic benchmarks for all food products


Body Mass Index


Confederation of the Food and Drink Industries of the EU (

Codex Alimentarius

Literally: ‘Food Code’. An organization that creates and compiles food standards, codes of practice and recommendations. Membership is open to all countries associated with the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations and with the World Health Organization. Also non-governmental organizations. (http://www.codexalimentarius. net)


Data Food Networking (


Disability Adjusted Life Years

Disqualifying nutrient

a nutrient that, when present in a food, potentially disqualifies the food for bearing a nutrition and/or health claim


European Food Grouping


European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (


Eurocode2, Food Coding System (


Nutrition and Diet for Healthy Lifestyles in Europe (

Food category system

Benchmarks for specific food groups


Food Standards Agency. The UK Food Standards Agency is an independent Government department set up by an Act of Parliament in 2000 to protect the public’s health and consumer interests in relation to food (


Guideline Daily Amounts. A guide to the daily amount of e.g. calories, fat and salt that the average adult should have in their diet. Enable the consumer to see the nutritional contribution a product makes to the diet. These do not apply to children


Glycemic Index

Good nutrient

qualifying nutrient


Healthy Eating Index

Negative nutrient

disqualifying nutrient

Nutrient profiling

Nutritional evaluation systems for foods to categorize foods according to their nutritional composition


Foodstuffs for particular nutritional purposes

Qualifying nutrient

a nutrient that, when present in a food, potentially qualifies the food for bearing a nutrition and/or health claim


the proportion of true positives of all positive cases in the population


the probability of a true negative being correctly identified in a statistical test


Value Added Tax


  1. 1.
    EC (2005) Common Position adopted by the Council with a view to the adoption of a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on nutrition and health claims made on foods, Brussels, 15 November 2005, 9858/05Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Spinger 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  • Inge Tetens
    • 1
  • Regina Oberdörfer
    • 2
  • Carina Madsen
    • 3
  • Jan de  Vries
    • 4
  1. 1.The National Food InstituteTechnical University of DenmarkSøborgDenmark
  2. 2.Bayer CropScience BioScienceFrankfurt/MainGermany
  3. 3.ILSI Europe a.i.s.b.lBrusselsBelgium
  4. 4.Friesland FoodsDeventerThe Netherlands

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