Cereal killer: EFSA rejects Nestlé’s beta-glucan health claim
28 Apr 2021 --- The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has refuted a beta-glucan-based health claim from Nestlé – the Swiss food giant’s first EU health claim submission since 2010.
Nestlé’s dossier linked oat and barley beta-glucan-fortified breakfast cereals with blood glucose management – but it was left to cry over spilt cereal milk after EFSA’s 16-strong health claims panel (plus four advisors) baulked over dosage and format.
A Nestlé spokesperson tells NutritionInsight “we’re disappointed” but highlighted “the positive feedback whereby EFSA confirmed the validity of the findings of one of our clinical studies”.
The spokesperson wouldn’t confirm if the company would appeal the opinion or resubmit a modified claim, stating only: “In spite of the assessment, we will continue to improve the nutritional profile of our products by increasing the ingredients and nutrients essential to a balanced diet such as whole grain and fiber, while reducing ingredients like sugar and sodium.”
Cereal products from Nestlé and its General Mills/Cereal Partners Worldwide alliance that could have been fortified and employed the claim across the EU include Fitness, Cheerios and Cocoa Puffs.
According to Innova Market Insights, both active and passive health claims are on the rise in the cold cereal category, with health-focused global launches seeing 6 percent CAGR from 2016 to 2020.
Same effects, different doses
Nestlé had grounds for dossier confidence given EFSA’s 2011 approval of a similar claim that established beta-glucans could reduce “post‐prandial blood glucose responses”.
But that positive opinion was not food group-specific and was based on a dosage of 4 g per 30 g of available carbohydrates, compared to 1.3 g per 25 g of extruded cereal-based carbs in Nestlé’s present application.
Nestlé hoped to bridge the gap with cereal-specific science showing the claimed blood glucose-modulating effects at lower beta-glucan doses.
Extrusion and batch cooking enhanced the viscous properties of beta-glucans and thus boosted their blood glucose regulation potential, Nestlé proposed.
EFSA’s Panel on Dietetic Products, Nutrition and Allergies (NDA) was however unconvinced, stating an in vitro study failed to show this mechanism of action.
“There was no difference in the viscosity in the supernatants of porridge produced with and without beta‐glucans.”
Key study sticking point: No comparison with other food groups
The NDA opinion however confirmed that a submitted double blind, randomized clinical study’s finding that batch-cooked or extruded breakfast cereals fortified with at least 1.2 g of beta-glucans per 25 g of carbohydrates did reduce post-meal blood glucose levels over a two hour period. For reference, a typical breakfast cereal bowl is 30 to 45 g.
The NDA wrote the study results “showed significantly lower blood glucose and insulin concentrations (iAUC) following consumption of two types of breakfast cereals with added beta‐glucans as compared to the same type of breakfast cereals with no added beta‐glucans.”
Encouraging for Nestlé, but the panel went on to state the unpublished 2018 study from Sydney University's Glycaemic Index Research Service (SUGiRS) was still inadequate because it failed to compare this significant blood glucose effect with effects that might be felt in “other carbohydrate containing foods” with similar dosages that were “not manufactured via pressure cooking”.
Rather than comparing the effects of fortified cereals with regular cereals, it sought comparison with other food groups. Without such comparative data, the NDA concluded the “evidence provided is insufficient”.
At any rate, one study showing significant effects was not enough, it added.
The NDA dismissed another similar 2019 study from SUGiRS over a lack of clarity about beta-glucan versus carbohydrate levels in the examined cereals – along with other trial design issues.
Beta-glucan consumer awareness
Beta-glucans have been an increasingly trendy topic in nutrition over the last few years.
In February, Lallemand Bio-Ingredients argued that the ingredient is on its way to becoming as much of a household name as vitamins and omega 3s.
Other companies tapping into the beta-glucan excitement include Kemin, Kerry and SternVitamins.
Notably, Innova Market Insights reports a 75 percent jump in global F&B launches featuring beta-glucan between 2019 and 2020, albeit from a small base.
In tandem, scientific backing and health claims are increasingly important to consumers. The rise of social media can mean that truth is often difficult to pinpoint.
A 2020 Innova Consumer Survey revealed that two in five global consumers don’t believe that vloggers, bloggers and influencers are honest about the products that they promote.
Therefore, companies that can point consumers to approved claims hold an advantage.
The claim game
Since issuing its first EU nutrition and health claims regulation (NHCR) opinions in 2008, EFSA has approved six out of 136 company-led, proprietary claims of the type submitted here by Nestlé (known as article 13.5 claims).
Nestlé’s last health submission under the NHCR was a skin health claim with its then Innéov nutricosmetic partner, L’Oreal, in 2010.
That claim was also rejected.
By Shane Starling
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