Accuracy and integrity is paramount in the world of health claims

Last year the UK’s Food Foundation produced the ‘Truly Epic Book of VegPower’, a book to coincide with their fundraising for an advertising campaign to promote vegetables to children. You may remember seeing the first advert recently, ‘Eat Them to Defeat Them’.

We were honored to be invited to work on the development of The Power-Up game for the book. A game that teaches kids about the power of nutrition and encourages them to eat the right blend of vegetables.

Our role along with the development, was to analyse each celebrity chef recipe, using CheckYourNutrition’s unique algorithm, and award it a Power-Up icon, be it steel bones, buzzing brains, bug buster or one of the other 4 icons.

In awarding the icons we looked long and hard at both the spirit and the letter of the regulations surrounding the health claims that can be made for ingredients and recipes.

The EU regulation 1924/2006

In essence the EU has set up qualifying procedures for claims to be made when advertising the nutrient content of foods. For example, if 100g of carrots has enough vitamin A to meet a qualifying percentage of an amount set by the EU, claims can be made for the health benefits of vitamin A on any promotional materials.

All very straightforward you may think. However, there are quite a few variables in the mix that have a great deal of bearing on the legitimacy of any claims that are to be made.

The EU regulation 1924/2006 states that the amounts of nutrients in food can come from ‘generally established and accepted data sources’. Once ascertained we can work out if the amount of a nutrient in an ingredient or recipe meets the qualifying percentage of the amount set by the EU, which is known as a nutrient reference value (NRV).

This immediately throws up a few questions:

1. Is the source data representative and accurate?
2. Have the effects of cooking on nutrients been considered?
3. Is the 100g portion size a realistic amount for someone to consume in one sitting?

Is the source data representative and accurate?

In the case of the carrot, the UK data (McCance and Widdowson), for the vitamin A content of carrots is more than double that of the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) source data. This would lead to a much easier qualification for a vitamin A health claim if using the UK data.

Why is this? Well there is actually no vitamin A in carrots, there are pro-vitamin A chemicals that we convert to vitamin A in our body (beta-carotene). And it the conversion ratio that is the issue here. The UK convert the beta-carotene amount by dividing it by 6 whereas the US divide the beta carotene by 12.

So the answer to question 1 is tricky unless you consider the ‘spirit’ of the legislation which is to not ‘mislead the consumer’ and provide ‘good information’ to them.

In fact, the US conversion ratio of 12:1 is the conversion rate preferred by the EU. However, as a food producer you are free to use the UK data at the much more generous 6:1 ratio. So, who is right and what would you do?

Have the effects of cooking on nutrients been considered?

Again, there are also several sets of cooking retention factors (the likely vitamin and mineral losses upon cooking) available to be applied to recipes. McCance and Widdowson use very general ones so do you use those, or the much more specific factors supplied by the USDA, which are specific to ingredients and cooking methods.

The effects of cooking on beef are very different from chicken for example, as are the effects of cooking on root veg versus greens. Since the spirit of the legislation is to not ‘mislead the consumer’ and provide ‘good information’ which data would you use?

Is the 100g portion size a realistic amount for someone to consume in one sitting?

The same applies to portion size. For example, is 100 grams of carrot a realistic portion size for a child? Not really in our estimation, 50g (in line with the 5 a day recommended portion size) would be fairer when applying health claims to an ingredient or single portion recipe.

The CheckYourFood Group

Here at the CheckYourFood Group we honour the spirit of the legislation and our unique algorithm applies the best available data sources, which we double check for accuracy, consulting with the relevant institution, if we find an anomaly.

We also go one step further and have an in-house biochemist checking the validity of the science behind the authorised health claims, along with the emerging science on potential new health claims, and we make recommendations to our food producer customers accordingly.

For food producers and growers, universities, health professionals and general users we give access to the world’s most compelling, innovative and accurate ingredient platform because we believe sticking to the ‘spirit’ is always preferable to applying the ‘letter’ of legislation.