Meal replacement regulation should consider consumers not just science: SNE

By Annie Harrison-Dunn contact

- Last updated on GMT

EFSA says 550 mg of choline, SNE says that would make products taste of fish
EFSA says 550 mg of choline, SNE says that would make products taste of fish

Related tags: Nutrition, Obesity

Any new regulation on total meal replacements should consider consumer expectations of taste and cost, not just science, says trade group Specialised Nutrition Europe (SNE).

SNE attended a meeting last week for the Commission’s working group on regulatory options for total diet replacements following a milestone opinion from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) back in January.

The opinion laid out what a “safe and suitable” ​low-calorie diet replacement regime for overweight or obese adults looking to lose weight should contain.

EFSA specified a minimum of 600 calories, 30 g of carbohydrates and 75 g of protein per day as well as various new nutrient levels.

SNE executive director Aurélie Perrichet told us: “Our main concern is to make sure that from a compositional point of view we can respond to the nutritional needs [of the consumers] and also ensure a high level of consumer protection, but also make sure that these consumers don’t orientate themselves to more unbalanced diets or slimming programmes that are not appropriate for them.”  

Taste and cost could be a key decider in whether such consumers stuck with nutritionally appropriate diets.

Something fishy

One of these micronutrients was choline, which EFSA said should be at least 550 mg per day.

Perrichet said this was unexpectedly high and if the future regulation were to stick to EFSA’s recommendations, this little ingredient could pose big formulation problems for manufacturers in terms of taste and shelf life.

“Choline has a really fishy taste and we were afraid that consumers would move away from this kind of product because of the bad taste.”

The organisation had made several mock ups of an 'EFSA-approved total meal replacement' and initial results had not been great. Masking with flavours could also present an issue, particularly given the nature of these products.

Another point of contention was EFSA’s protein levels, higher than the 50 g/day recently established under the EU’s new Food Information for Consumers (FIC) labelling legislation.

Perrichet said this didn’t leave any room for fibres.

A diet in context

Moving forward with the regulation, it was important to put these products in a real-world context.

As consumer behaviour is largely influenced by the taste and/or cost of products, SNE urged the European Commission and the member states to take into account consumer expectations in addition to the safety assessment made by EFSA,”​ the group wrote in a statement.

Some of the meeting's participants noted that with the increasing challenge of weight and obesity in Europe, many consumers were not addressing their weight problems with appropriate nutritional solutions and instead opted for nutritionally inadequate ‘fad diets’ of which there were a proliferation, SNE said.

The delegated regulation on total diet replacements came as part of new specialised nutrition rules under the Foods for Specific Groups (FSG) Regulation 609/2013​ adopted in 2013 and applicable from July 2016 onwards. ​The Commission was waiting for EFSA’s opinion, now it had that it would be working to a deadline of 20 July 2015.

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