What are Nutrient Criteria?
Nutrient Criteria are sets of targets for certain nutrients found in a serve of food (and in some cases per 100g). This can include targets for nutrients that are associated with diet-related diseases (e.g. saturated fat, sodium and energy/kJ), as well as nutrients that contribute positively to our daily nutrient requirements (e.g. dietary fibre and calcium).
Why do we need nutrient criteria?
The reason for setting nutritional criteria is to promote and encourage the production of healthier packaged products. 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 contribute positively to their daily nutrient needs and minimise the negative impact on their health.
Benefits of nutrient criteria
- Helps to create positive eating behaviours by assisting consumers in identifying healthier products within a product category, particularly when faced with a huge range of choices.
- Re-enforces public health messages – i.e. nutrients in the diet that need to be minimised for positive health outcomes, and the importance of core food intake.
- Promotes the development of more products that make a positive contribution to nutrient needs.
Who uses nutrient criteria?
Examples of nutrient criteria currently used in Australia to help promote healthier products:
- Our own Healthy Kids Nutrient Criteria used in relation to products that are promoted to school-aged children.
- National Heart Foundation Criteria used for the “Tick” program to promote healthier products across a range of food categories for the general public.
- The Glycemic Index Foundation and the GI Symbol used to promote lower GI products across a range of food products for the general public.
Criteria targets 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.
Food and drink categorisation
Foods and drinks with the same or similar quantities of ingredients are placed into a 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 higher 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, particularly whole grains, provide a contribution to fibre intake. Nutrient criteria for breakfast cereals include a minimum target for dietary fibre and whole grains, 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). As mentioned – grains, particularly wholegrains, provide a contribution to fibre intake. Nutrient criteria for bread include a minimum target for dietary fibre and a maximum target for sodium per 100g.
What is taken into account when products are assessed
- 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, laboratory analysis may be requested or conducted by the organisation.