Food supply challenges | The National Food Plan | Health claims on packaging
Over 500 dietitians converged on the National Convention Centre in Canberra for the Dietitians Association of Australia’s 30th National Conference. We have put togethre a summary of three intersting session which outlined current challenges affecting the food supply as well as future opportunities and the important role dietitians ca play in educating Australians.
Healthier food products myths and misconceptions
Cereal Partners Worldwide (CPW) held a fascinating breakfast seminar on the first morning of the conference. Nilani Sritharan explained how reducing sugar or increasing fibre content can affect the nutrient content and taste as well as increase the cost of breakfast cereals. Attendees taste tested a cereal which had had the sugar reduced by half by either just removing the sugar, or replacing it with a sweetener or a natural flavour. While there were noticeable changes to the taste, interestingly the energy content changed by only a single kilojoule.
Dr Tony Bird went on to explain that GI testing of a set of cereals found that a four-fold reduction in sugar to the level required for a green traffic light label had no effect on the GI of the cereal. In considering these findings Manny Noakes commented that, “consumers want to be liberated from certain things like sugar, wheat or gluten…..however looking at single nutrients and changing them does not mean you will end up with a more nutritious product.”
National Food Plan and the challenges for tomorrow
The National Food Plan
was launched the same week of the National Conference, and so Professor Peter Williams provided a timely discussion on the potential role health professionals and health organisations can play to support the Plan. The aim of the National Food Plan is for government, businesses and individuals to work together towards “a sustainable, globally competitive, food supply which supports access to nutritious and affordable food”. Prof Williams recommended that health professionals can play an important role advocating for disadvantaged groups and educating consumers to make healthier food choices.
With environmental sustainability being a focus of the Plan as well as a hot topic within the dietetics profession, it was no surprise this was also discussed. Professor Williams outlined the complexities of measuring the environmental impact of consumption patterns, while also highlighting the significant amount of food wasted each year by Australians. Professor Williams explained that health professionals and all Australians can make a significant impact on sustainability by reducing waste and discouraging over consumption.
Food laws helping consumers
When Australians go to the supermarket they are often confronted with lots of messages on foods labels, for example nutrition claims like “low in fat” or health claims such as “reduces cholesterol absorption”. While manufacturers do choose what claims they make on their food and beverages there is a clear set of rules which govern what claims can be made and which products are eligible.
FSANZ (Food Standards Australia and New Zealand) have
recently introduced new regulation which aims to encourage innovation by food manufacturers to make healthier food products. The new system introduces the Nutrient Profiling Scoring Criterion (NPSC) which can be used to assess the eligibility of foods to make health claims. NPSC takes into account the type of food or beverage, energy content, saturated fat, total sugars and sodium levels as well as the content of fruit, vegetable, nuts, legumes, protein and fibre to produce a score. The goal of the NPSC is to identify healthier food options, so only foods and beverages which meet specified NPSC scores can make an appropriate health claim.
A final word on food labels…Beware of “puffery”: there may be cases where a claim is not a nutrition content claim or a health claim and so is not regulated by FSANZ or the code. Where these claims are false or misleading it’s recommended that consumers contact the ACCC (Australian Competition and Consumer Commission).