New sterol-fortified foods permitted in Australia

By Dominique Patton

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Nutrition Australia

Cholesterol-lowering margarines are set to be joined by
cholesterol-lowering milks, yoghurts and cereals as Australia and
New Zealand's food authority finally approves the new categories.

Spreads containing cholesterol-lowering plant sterols have been available in Australasia for several years but applications for new food types caused enough concern with government health officials to warrant more than one review of the safety data.

Plant sterols, an ingredient extracted from oilseeds like soya, have been shown in studies to inhibit LDL cholesterol.

But governments are concerned that the foods will be eaten by the wrong consumers.

Under the new approvals, announced by Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) on Friday, manufacturers will be required to carry advisory statements that they should be consumed as part of a healthy diet and that they are not suitable for children under five years or pregnant or lactating women.

Goodman Fielder, which already markets the Logicol brand cholesterol-lowering margarine, now gets clearance to launch sterol-containing cereals, while Parmalat and Dairy Farmers who both submitted applications for adding sterols to low-fat milks can go ahead with new dairy products.

Low-fat yoghurts are also approved for adding sterols.

These products are already available in Europe, the most developed market for sterol-containing foods, along with other categories like sausages, sauces and breads.

And although fibre-enriched foods are still the most popular choice for consumers concerned about heart health, sterol-containing products are making significant sales.

Market researcher Frost & Sullivan estimated sales of the ingredient to be worth $184.6million in Europe last year, and predicts that they will more than double by 2012 to reach $395.2million.

"The growing trend towards fortification of foods with vitamins, folate, minerals and herbal extracts has helped to create a more conducive environment for the incorporation of phytosterols in foods and beverages," explained Frost and Sullivan research analyst Kaye Cheung.

"FSANZ's consumer research found that most consumers of plant sterolproducts are health conscious adults who choose foods with a healthbenefit in mind and as part of a healthy lifestyle," added Australian health minister Christopher Pyne.

FSANZ said it is working with the National Heart Foundation of Australia (NHF) and the Dietitians Association of Australia to provide information aboutplant sterol foods to doctors, health professionals and consumers.

Done out of concerns about safety, the move could also help food companies by raising consumer awareness of their benefits.

Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death and disability in Australia, causing 38 per cent of all deaths in 2002.

And 51 per cent of Australian adults (6.4 million) have high cholesterol levels.

This prevalence has not fallen in the last 20 years, according to the NHF.

In a separate issue, FSANZ has also announced that water-based beverages with added vitamins and minerals (formulated beverages) can now be legallymanufactured in Australia.

These products have been available inAustralia for many years, manufactured in New Zealand as dietary supplements and imported to Australia.

Now they can be made in Australia.

The gazette notice for the new standards can be found on the FSANZ website

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