Low-GI health claims are ‘down, but not out’

By Elaine Watson

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Health claims, Nutrition, Efsa

While low-glycaemic index (low-GI) health claims have suffered a major setback following last week’s negative opinion from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), it is “by no means the end of the road” for glycaemic control, according to experts in the field.

In an opinion published last week as part of a batch of ‘article 13.1’ generic health claims assessments, EFSA concluded that low-GI carbohydrates were “not sufficiently characterised”​ and that the health benefits of consuming them had not been established.

Lobbying efforts to get the term ‘low-GI’ onto the list of nutrition claims permitted in Europe have also failed.

Firms will resubmit claims

But Jeya Henry, professor of human nutrition at Oxford Brookes University and a leading authority on diet and glycaemic response, said he expected firms would re-submit claims under other articles of the Regulation in this area as the science was compelling.

He said: “We don’t know what data EFSA was looking at. If the data it had was based on food tables, for example, it was right to be cautious as it is not possible to ascribe a GI-rating to a food by analysis in a lab or predictions based on its composition; testing must be done on humans.

“But it’s by no means the end of the road for GI. The important questions are: Are carbs metabolised differently? Yes. Is the concept of glycaemic response scientifically valid? The answer is yes.”

Keeping blood sugar under control was potentially key to reducing the risk of diabetes and other chronic diseases, but it could also assist in weight management, said Henry. “We need a new approach as low-fat diets have been a complete failure in many cases.”

Dr Julian Stowell, scientific and regulatory affairs expert at Danisco, said: “At least EFSA accepted that there is merit in trying to control blood glucose. In regard to the GI claims, we did submit some ‘mini’ dossiers, but at the time it wasn’t clear what was required. We need to engage in dialogue with EFSA and the European Commission to see where we could provide more convincing evidence. I firmly believe that reducing the glycaemic impact of the diet can help to maintain good blood glucose control and can mediate enhanced satiety."

Communication breakdown

A failure of communication at the beginning of the process as to what information was required for article 13.1 had scuppered many applications, he argued. “Several claims on probiotics have been rejected on the grounds that the strains were not properly characterised, but it had not been made clear at the outset that this was a requirement. In these cases we’ll resubmit.

"I have been through the full opinion but it does not shed any light on why the NDA Panel considered the 'low-GI' carbohydrates as 'not sufficiently characterised'. Their point may be related to the fact that carbohydrates mediate different glycaemic properties depending on the food matrix. However, it has been shown that this variation is small compared to the overall effect and irrelevent whan one considers substitution of 'high' by 'low' GI components, all other aspects remaining the same."

He added: “The European Commission is adopting a medical approach to the evaluation of health claims on foods, and while there is no question that good nutrition has a profound effect on healthy life expectancy, it is very difficult to translate that into claims on individual foods that we eat as part of a varied diet.”

Nino Binns, a food law consultant and the co-author of an influential paper on the preparation of submissions for article 13 claims, said: “The big pity in all this is that this is a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ system. There is not the opportunity to grade evidence.”

This article was originally published on our sister publication FoodManufacture​.

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