What is the nutrient criteria?
The Nutrient Criteria are sets of targets for certain ingredients and nutrients found in a serve of food and in some cases per 100g of product. Targets are set for both public health sensitive nutrients (such as saturated fat) that are associated with diet related diseases such as heart disease, as well as nutrients that contribute positively to our daily nutrient requirements, like dietary fibre. The reason for setting nutritional criteria is to promote and encourage the production of healthier packaged products so that the ingredients contribute positively to our daily requirements.
Examples of nutrient criteria currently used in Australia to help promote healthier products are:
1. Our own Healthy Kids Nutrient Criteria used in relation to products that are promoted to school aged children
2. National Heart Foundation Criteria used for the “Tick” program to promote healthier products across a range of food categories for the general public
3. The Glycemic Index Foundation and the GI Symbol used to promote lower GI products across a range of food products for the general public
The criteria targets set for products depend on a range of factors, such as:
- The food product type – snack food bar, beverage, mixed meal, produce – fruit & veg, staple items, etc.
- The ingredients within the food – fruit, milk, grains, meat, sugar, fat, salt, etc.
- How much and when the food is consumed within the diet – breakfast, lunch, dinner, snack, beverage
- Current public health messages and nutrient guidelines – dietary guidelines, health promotion initiative messages, results of national health and nutritional surveys
Foods with the same or similar quantities of ingredients are placed into a food category. This categorisation allows for one set of nutrient criteria relevant and specific to that category and the ingredients they contain. For example:
- Dairy products (milk, yoghurt, cheese, custard & dairy desserts). Milk is naturally a good source of calcium, with full cream varieties being high in saturated fat. Nutrient criteria for foods that are based on milk as an ingredient include a minimum target for calcium, and maximum level of saturated fat per 100g
- Breakfast cereals (based predominantly on grains like wheat, corn, rice, barley, oats with added sugar and ingredients like fruit, nuts, seeds). Grains, in particular wholegrains, provide a contribution to fibre intake. Nutrient criteria for breakfast cereals include a minimum target for dietary fibre and wholegrains, and a maximum target for sugar, to moderate the amount of added sugars per 100g. Cereals that have added dried fruit have a different sugar target as a significant amount of the sugar in these cereals is coming from the fruit and not added
- Bread products (based predominantly on grains like wheat, rye, barley, oats and other grains derived from these grains like spelt and kumat and the addition of salt and ingredients to assist in the proofing process). Grains in particular whole grains, provide a contribution to fibre intake. Nutrient criteria for breads include a minimum target for dietary fibre and a maximum target for sodium per 100g.
Why do we need nutrient criteria?
As our lifestyles change and we demand more convenience foods to cope with our time poor schedules, it can be difficult to identify what the right choice of product is at quick glance. By developing nutrient criteria, food manufacturers can be guided at the product development stage with a set of targets that aim to help ensure consumers will be offered food choices that are not only convenient, but which minimise the impact on their health. Nutrient targets are just one strategy of many that contribute to helping consumers make healthier food choices. Nutrient targets aim to reflect public health messages that relate to food and eating guidelines to improve intakes of core foods to meet recommended daily serves.
What do nutrient criteria do?
- help consumers identify foods lower in public health sensitive nutrients and higher in nutrients that make a positive contribution to our daily nutrient requirements within a specific food category
- re-enforce public health messages around nutrients in the diet that need to be minimized for positive health outcomes
- re-enforce public health guidelines around the importance of core food intake and turning these into practical application at the supermarket shelf through identification of products that make a positive contribution to the diet
- Assist in creating positive eating behaviours as an educational tool for consumers in identifying healthier products
The positive result of having a helping hand when choosing what to eat and drink every day should be that we choose more healthy foods and beverages from the core food groups, and less of the ‘extra’ foods and beverages that should be kept for special occasions.
Nutrient criteria set by organisations such as Healthy Kids and the Heart Foundation assist the consumer to choose healthier products within a product category. This is achieved by independently assessing a product against set nutritional targets for the consumer and identifying if the product meets these targets by the use of a logo on front of the pack. Assessment of product takes into account:
- the product type/category
- how the product is consumed and by whom (target market)
- a select number of ingredients that impact the products nutritional density
- the nutrition information panel values for specific nutrients relevant to the food type
- where values for positive nutrients like fibre and calcium are not provided, a laboratory analysis will be conducted
The Nutrient criteria used in the assessment of products aims to:
- simplify healthier product selection when faced with a huge range of product choices
- promote the development of more products that make a positive contribution to nutrient needs
- promote products containing more core food ingredients providing naturally occurring nutrients from the food