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Healthier food products redefined

The question 'what defines healthy food?' is an everlasting question in the field of nutrition. In the light of causes of obesity and non-communicable diseases (NCDs), there are 4 nutrients that, when over-consumed, negatively affect health and these are trans-fatty acids, saturated fatty acids, sodium and sugars. Fibre, on the other hand, induces health risk when consumption is insufficient. Based on this knowledge, the Choices criteria were developed and published in 2011 to serve as the basis for a front-of-pack nutrition logo system to make the healthy choice the easy choice for consumers and to stimulate industry to innovate and make healthier products (Roodenburg et al.).

Now, after the third 4-year periodical revision, the Choices International Foundation proudly presents a freshly updated set of criteria, which is the result of over a yearlong critical and careful revision by the Choices International Scientific Committee. This committee consists of leading and independent scientists from around the globe, representing almost all continents.

The revision has resulted in criteria that can be used as an international benchmark for healthier food. Governments, industries and NGOs can use them as a tool to define what products are healthy in order to develop policies to tackle NCDs. This global character of the new criteria was established by using databases from different countries around the world to calculate the nutrient limits and review the product group classification to better reflect international eating habits.

The aim for every periodical revision is to investigate whether the criteria can be tightened relative to the previous criteria version. By this stepwise lowering of the cut-offs (or elevation in case of the fibre cut-offs), Choices keeps stimulating the industry to reformulate and make their products healthier over time. During this revision, 19 cut-offs (for sugar, saturated fat, sodium and trans fat) were lowered. For example, the total sugar limit for breakfast cereal was lowered from 19.5g/100g to 17g/100g.

Several national positive nutrition logo programs in Asia, Europe, Africa and South America are based upon the Choices International criteria. Every country is unique in their eating habits, food supply and nutrition issues and we, therefore, encourage these national initiatives to use the changes in the international criteria as a guideline to investigate whether their criteria should be changed as well. Choices International acts as a consultant within this process.

Besides a logo initiative to help consumers and a reformulation agenda for the industry, the criteria can be used for many other applications. For example to create healthy school or hospital meals or to serve as guidelines for responsible marketing.

The new criteria are available to download at https://www.choicesprogramme.org/what-we-do/product-criteria/. Interested to learn how this criteria revision executed? The methods will be described in a planned paper, expected to be published in 2019.

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