The European Commission is currently working on proposals to introduce harmonised, mandatory front of pack nutrition labelling and nutrient profiles in the EU. Nutrient profiles are thresholds for fat, salt and sugar above which products will be forbidden or restricted from making health or nutrition claims. FOPNL are nutrition labelling systems that are included on the front of food packages to help consumers make food choices based on this nutritional information. In the UK, in the same vein, the Government is looking to introduce restrictions on advertising and promotions/location in shop of foods high in fat, salt and sugar (HFSS).
These measures are welcomed by public health bodies, consumer groups and a big part of the food industry as a necessary step to help consumers chose healthier food and drinks – and encourage food businesses to reformulate, but does it make sense to apply the same rules to all foods? It is not that simple.
'Good' or 'bad' nutrients?
Some specialist foods have higher content of what are traditionally considered “bad” nutrients – namely fat, salt and sugar – because they are formulated to meet specific consumer needs. For example, while there is a link between the intake of sugars and the risk of some chronic metabolic diseases, carbohydrates/sugar have a role to play in sports nutrition drinks and other sports foods aimed at consumers looking to supplement their diet while practicing sports.
The same can be said about sodium. Although a high intake of salt is discouraged as part of the general diet, sports drinks are often high in sodium to help replenish the loss of electrolytes during physical activity. Indeed, carbohydrate/electrolyte solutions have been acknowledged, through the authorisation of health claims in the EU and the UK, as helpful for physical performance during high-intensity and long-lasting physical exercise, endurance performance during prolonged endurance exercise and absorption of water during physical exercise. The high carbohydrates/sugar and salt content of some sports nutrition drinks is therefore justified as it is intended to support physical performance.
Sports drinks are not only specifically designed and targeted at adults engaging in physical activity to support their sports regime - but their direct link to physical activity has the potential to help meet public health objectives to encourage individuals to engage in regular exercise.
Policy measures and regulations intended to help consumers choose healthier food options are commendable and something that the food and beverage industry should support to improve the food environment. But when designing these measures, policymakers and regulators need to keep the specificities of specialist foods in mind.
About the author: Andrea Gutierrez-Solana is an Account Director at Whitehouse Communications where she leads the work on various clients operating in the EU and the UK market and provides regulatory and policy advice on food and nutrition, public health and sustainability.
Previously, Andrea worked for a Brussels based law firmed specialised in competition, trade and agri-food regulatory matters, and for the European Commission Directorate General for Trade, where she dealt with food safety and market access files.
Andrea holds a dual bachelor’s degree in Law and Political Science & Public Administration and a Master’s in European Union Law.
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