FEBRUARY 2014 WHAT’S HOT IN NUTRITION UPDATE
With 2014 in full swing, food, nutrition and health continue to dominate the news. Whilst sugar may have had market share, there have been many other note worthy stories that will have an impact on consumers and manufactures alike.
We’ve therefore created an overview of the six hot topics that have been in the news over the past few weeks.
Sugar remains in the press
The formation of the campaign group Action on Sugar along with national headlines such as ‘Sugar Is The New Tobacco’, and TV programs such as Channel 4 Dispatches (Are You Addicted To Sugar?) has meant that never before has sugar been so heavily and negatively covered in the press.
However, as the negative coverage escalates, so do rumblings surrounding whether this ‘anti-sugar’ mood change is a dangerous one. Indeed, some scientists have slammed claims that sugar ‘is the new tobacco’ and warned against the perils of an increasingly single-minded focus on sugar. Is there really enough quality evidence to suggest that sugar, in isolation, is responsible for obesity, diabetes, coronary heart disease and dementia? We are still awaiting an evidence-based answer to this. In the mean time, BBC’s Horizon’s programme Fat vs Sugar was one of the first of late to highlight both sides of the argument and put forward some logical points of view.
It is perhaps not surprising that the mood between the anti-sugar campaigners and manufactures is getting increasingly tense, especially in light of all the money that some companies have put into taking on the challenges set by the governments voluntary Responsibility Deal. Quoted in The Grocer, a leading supplier commented that, “now we have got the sugar curveball, which has received disproportionate coverage. Yet the fact is there is a lot of snake-oil science out there and for every one Robert Lustig (author of Fat Chance: The Bitter Truth About Sugar) there are ten pieces of work that contradict it.”
It is this month that the SACN meet to discuss the effects of carbohydrates on health, and from this, new public health guidelines could be formed, based off sound scientific evidence. However, these findings will not be without controversy themselves as members of the SACN committee have allegedly received funding from some the big sugar organisations.
UK taste for porridge soars
Porridge sales are on the up and it is not all attributable to the rather grim weather we are all experiencing at the moment.
Recent research from Mintel has shown that the hot cereals sector is the fastest growing segment in the cereals market, with it experiencing a 17% growth year-on-year. Indeed between 2008 and 2013, sales of hot cereals almost doubled to £241million. The report also confirmed that the porridge demographic is changing with younger people increasingly choosing porridge for breakfast, with 40% of 16-24year olds starting the day with hot cereal.
Why the porridge resurgence? Part of the answer can probably be attributed to the rise in the health-conscious consumer, particularly in light of the negative coverage that surrounds the amount of refined, added sugar that can be found in some cereal brands. Particularly as oats are not only low in sugar but also carry other great health benefits, especially surrounding cardiovascular health.
Interestingly and encouragingly for porridge manufactures, is the fact that sales also seem to be rising in the summer months too. It would certainly be good news if this great, nutritious breakfast could break the hackles of seasonality.
Department of Health sets to tackle unhealthy food promotions
The Department of Health is continuing on with its voluntary schemes, in a hope that distributing the burden of responsibility will prove the most effective way in battling diet-related health issues.
Their latest scheme is encouraging retailers and suppliers to clamp down on the promotion of foods high in fat, sugar and salt as it prepares to launch a new strategy to fight childhood obesity.
Indeed, the DH claims supermarkets and suppliers can supply the final piece in the jigsaw in its Responsibility Deal if they agree to a range of suggestions including removing junk food from check outs and limiting the marketing of HFSS products to children.
The removal of junk food from checkouts is not a new idea as the British Dietetic Association (www.bda.uk.com), the professional association and trade union for dietitians, along with the Children’s Food Campaign run by Sustain (www.sustainweb.org), the alliance for better food and farming, have already joined forces to challenge supermarkets to remove unhealthy snacks from checkouts and queuing areas. The campaign, which is also supported by The British Dental Association and Slimming World is called ‘Junk Free Checkouts’. In terms of uptake for the scheme, Lidl has promised to roll out the ‘healthy checkouts’ concept, especially as a trial last year showed a 20% higher footfall when unhealthy items on the till were replaced with fresh fruit and juices.
Aspartame deemed safe at current levels
Aspartame is an intense sweetener, approximately two hundred times sweeter than sugar, which has been used in soft drinks and other low calorie or sugar free foods throughout the world for more than twenty-five years. It is also referred to as E951. However, a number of anecdotal reports had cast doubt on the safety of the sweetener, particularly in relation to tumor development. However, the European Food Safety Authority carried out one of the most comprehensive risk assessments ever undertaken, which involved looking at both animal and human studies. From this, experts have concluded that the current Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI) of 40mg/kg of body weight/day was safe for the general population (but this excludes individuals who need to follow a low phenylalanine diet due to suffering from the genetic disorder phenylketonuria as aspartame is a source of phenylalanine).
This finding is a major boost for companies such as Coca-Cola, which uses aspartame in products including Diet Coke and Coke Zero. However, the trend for consumers to move towards products free from artificial ingredients, such as Stevia the natural sugar, could cause other problems for artificial sweeteners such as aspartame. Indeed, the market research company ‘Canadean’ forecasts that consumption of Stevia will increase by 12.3% over the next five years, with aspartame consumption declining by between 0.1% and 0.7%.
Department of health halts tougher salt reduction targets
There is a wealth of scientific evidence that clearly links high salt intake to high blood pressure – a major cause of coronary heart disease and stroke. Such are the implications of high salt intakes that the government committed to helping reduce salt levels in food products by adding salt reduction to the Public Health Responsibility Deal.
In an attempt to help the British public achieve an average salt intake of 6g/day, targets were developed for salt reduction in 80 specific food groups with the hope that businesses would meet these targets by 2012. On top of these targets the government had recently aimed to make salt targets even tougher by adding in a further 1g reduction to the food industries targets.
However, in January 2013, the Department of Health postponed these tougher restrictions after backlash from the food industry who claimed that making these changes would be met with huge technical barriers as well as unacceptable taste changes. Indeed, figures from the food industry were already poor, with fewer then one in five meat products currently hitting their 2012 targets.
This news has gone down badly with the campaign Consensus Action on Salt and Health who have commented saying that, “they want to get to the bottom of why the 2012 targets had not been met. The answer isn’t surely to let these companies off the hook”.
This is a good example of how balancing public health concerns with consumer acceptance is not an easy task.
Probiotic market to be worth $44.9billion in 2018
Probiotics are live microorganisms which when taken in adequate amounts confer a health benefit. Food containing probiotic bacteria have been consumed for thousands of years and with the accumulation of anecdotal evidence and scientific research the evidence is now there to show that the regular intake of probiotics may positively influence our health, particularly in relation to gut health. Traditionally, bacteria have been used for the production of fermented foods such as yogurt and sauerkraut however, most of the bacterial strains didn’t survive the changes in pH conditions experienced in the gut and were therefore unable to bring about any positive health effects. However, specific bacteria strains have been found to be more resistant and the food industry has used this to their advantage by adding them to certain foods. These foods then became known as ‘functional foods’ as they delivered additional or enhanced benefits over and above their basic nutritional benefit.
Whilst these probiotic foods have been around for a while, it is expected that with increased consumer awareness in overall health but particularly gut health, the probiotic market is set to soar. Indeed, FoodBev.com highlighted functional food as a key health trend for 2014. These predictions are certainly supported by recent figures released from Transparency Market Research that shows the global probiotics market is expected to reach $44.9billion by 2018; a $17billion increase since 2008. However, pricing issues, lack of EFSA-approved health claims, culture cultivation and a lack of standardisation of product specifications are expected to have an inhibiting effect on market growth over the next five years.
This is certainly a market worth keeping an eye on.
Mediterranean diet to battle dementia
The Mediterranean diet is one that is high in fruit, vegetables, legumes, cereals and mono-unsaturated oils (such as nuts, olives and olive oil), with moderate consumption of fish, white meat and alcohol. Saturated fats and red meat are avoided. The composition of this diet has long been associated with improved positive health outcomes, including decreased risk from suffering with coronary heart disease, certain cancers, hypertension, hypercholesteremia and type 2 diabetes.
However, the Mediterranean diet is now also being linked as a tool to help prevent the onset of dementia. Reviews of various studies as well as new research carried out in 2013 has shown that people on a Mediterranean diet had better cognitive function, lower rates of cognitive decline and a lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
These findings arrived just in time to be presented at a crucial summit in London (December 2013), where the G8 group of nations met to plan a new approach to researching and treating the disease. Such plans are desperately needed considering that the condition currently costs the world an estimated £370billion a year.
This renewed interest in the Mediterranean diet is likely to remain in the press, especially as experts from Britain, France, the United States, Italy and Greece all have signed a letter to Mr. Cameron and Jeremy Hunt calling for governments to invest more in teaching the public, including children, about the benefits of a healthy diet and lifestyle, based around a Mediterranean diet.