UK unveils amended nutrient profiling system

Related tags Nutrition

Food officials in the UK have developed a model that ranks the
health status of foods according to the sum of their nutrients,
reports Dominique Patton.

The system has been developed for use by the country's advertising regulator, currently looking at restricting the advertising of certain foods to children.

Nutrient profiling has also been proposed under the European health claims regulation, although industry has vigorously campaigned to remove this requirement.

But if the law, scheduled for a second reading in the European Parliament at the end of the year or early 2006, is passed as it is, regulators could look towards the UK's nutrient profiling system.

The model developed by the UK's Food Standards Agency (FSA) has evolved through consultations over the last few months into a 'simple scoring' system, which rates the overall balance of nutrients in the food.

Points are allocated on the basis of the level of each nutrient (or food component) in 100g of the food, including the energy, saturated fat, total sugar, and sodium content of the food, as well as the amount of protein, fibre and fruit and vegetables that it contains.

This means the model raises attention to foods that are high in fat, salt or sugar, but recognises the importance of fruit and vegetables, cereal, meat, and dairy-based products in the diet, says the FSA.

The agency is proposing that the definition of high in saturated fat, salt or sugar should apply to foods scoring four points or more, and drinks scoring one point or more.

As the expert panel also wanted to promote healthy foods, it has proposed a provisional definition of healthier choice as those foods scoring zero points or less.

Examples of products typically advertised to children but coming up as 'healthy' under the system include oatmeal, muesli with no added sugar, low-fat fruit yoghurt, wholemeal bread and milk (irrespective of its fat content).

Those underlined as high in saturated fat, salt or sugar included cornflakes, confectionery, a range of takeaway foods, crisps and salted peanuts.

The model is expected to be significantly more straightforward for food companies, enforcement bodies and regulators to use than earlier models as it is based on the information already included in on-pack nutritional labelling, therefore eliminating the need for extensive further analysis by manufacturers.

A panel of independent nutritionists, dietitians, and representatives from the food industry and consumer groups, participated in the work, as well as two members of the government's Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN).

The consultation is open for comments​ until 26 September.

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