The National Reduction and Innovation Strategy: Less sugar, fat and salt in ready-made products

Ready-made products are a trend and have become part of a modern lifestyle. Quite often, they tend to be relatively high in sugar, fat and salt. The Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture (BMEL) wants to support consumers in choosing a health-promoting diet and ensure that processed food gets healthier.

The aim is for processed foodstuffs to contain less energy, sugar, fat and salt, but still have sufficient nutrients such as vitamins and minerals.

The National Reduction and Innovation Strategy for sugar, fat and salt puts a clear focus on ready-made products - in particular products whose presentation is targeted at children and adolescents.

Relevance for nutritional medicine

In Germany and around the globe, so-called non-communicable diseases such as cardiovascular diseases and diabetes mellitus type 2 are on the rise. This has an impact on the quality of life of those affected and on social and healthcare costs. Lack of exercise and an unbalanced and high-calorie diet can increase the risk for overweight and obesity which in turn may lead to the development of non-communicable diseases.

In Germany, about 47 percent of all women and 62 percent of all men are overweight. Almost a fifth of adults even suffer from obesity, i.e. pathological overweight. 15 percent of children and adolescents are overweight.

Make the healthy choice the easy choice

Part of a health-promoting lifestyle is having a diverse and wholesome diet. It is important to monitor energy intake and nutrient supply. As part of its food policy, the BMEL follows a holistic approach in order to facilitate a health-promoting lifestyle that aims at reducing the risk of diet-related diseases.

One of our main food-policy objectives is therefore to support consumers in lowering their calorie intake while still eating a balanced diet. One of the key measures is to improve nutritional awareness across all stages of life. With the projects of the National Action Plan entitled "IN FORM – German national initiative to promote healthy diets and physical activity", the Ministry mainly focuses on raising awareness and providing nutritional guidance.

Implementing the National Reduction and Innovation Strategy

The coalition agreement set out that the BMEL should devise a science-based strategy that would have a lasting effect on cutting sugar, fat and salt levels in ready-made products.

The present strategy is the result of a joint process involving stakeholders from the national government, the Länder and associations from the areas of food, nutrition, health, the food industry, consumer protection and science, and it was adopted in the Cabinet on 19/12/2018. This approach is unprecedented in Europe because, for the first time, sugar, fat and salt are being dealt with in a common strategy. With this strategy, Federal Minister Klöckner wants to encourage producers to think outside of the box and to market new and innovative products.

The intensive consultations were based on a general agreement that was concluded between policy makers and food industry representatives in September 2018. In the agreement, the food industry recognises that it is part of the solution, which is to ensure that the population has a balanced energy intake while improving nutrient supply.

Voluntary commitment and monitoring

The food industry is committed to achieve concrete reduction targets by 2025 – in particular for children’s products. It intends to reach these goals via voluntary commitments. Several associations from the food industry and food-retail sector have already concluded industry or product-specific process and target agreements in order to set out specific steps, measures and objectives.

The measures taken under the strategy are supposed to be implemented by 2025. The aim is to reduce the amount of sugar in breakfast cereals for children by at least 20 percent, and in soft drinks and in sweetened dairy products for children by about 15 percent. Drinks containing fruit and added sugar are also intended to have 15 percent less added sugar. In addition, an agreement was reached with the bakery trade to reduce salt peaks in bread and a voluntary industry commitment was made to reduce salt in ready-to-eat pizzas. Information materials and educational content on salt reduction will be disseminated through in-house training and seminars in the academies of the bakery trade.

The implementation started at the beginning of 2019. It will be closely monitored until 2025. From September to December 2019, the Max Rubner Institute carried out the first follow-up survey of the product monitoring, particularly for those product groups for which the levels of sugar, fat and/or salt are to be cut as part of the strategy. The results of the follow-up survey will be presented by March 2020 and will be included in the BMEL's interim report on the National Reduction and Innovation Strategy which is planned to be published by the end of 2020.

An advisory body guides the implementation of the National Reduction and Innovation Strategy. It is composed of representatives from the Federal Government, the Länder and associations representing the nutrition and health sectors, the food industry, consumer protection and science. The body’s main task is to maintain the clear focus of the strategy.

In addition, numerous measures are being taken in the areas of research, innovation and consumer guidance.

Ban on sugar in teas for infants or small children

As part of the strategy on innovation and reduction, Federal Minister Klöckner presented a draft regulation for a national ban on adding sugar and other sweeteners to teas for infants or small children in July 2019.

The ban is supposed to include sugar and other sweet ingredients such as honey, fruit juice, malt extract and other syrups and thick juices produced from plant-based raw materials. Water and, as an alternative, unsweetened herbal or fruit teas are considered to be suitable drinks for infants and small children. Experts consider sweetened herbal and fruit teas to be unsuitable  beverages for infants and small children. This is also due to the fact that the sugar consumption of infants and small children is closely linked to their sugar consumption later in childhood and adolescence. High and frequent sugar consumption is related, inter alia, to the development of overweight, obesity, dental caries.

Research and Innovation

Since 2016, the innovation support scheme has funded nine projects at the Max Rubner Institute that are concerned with reducing sugar, fat and salt,  using substitute products, or increasing the sweet or salty taste of the sugar and salt used in products. The first few results have already been published. Please see https://www.mri.bund.de/en/topics/reformulation/ for further information.

As part of the innovation support scheme, the BMEL is currently funding another six projects on reformulation with a term of between two to three years and a total funding volume of around EUR 3 mio.

  • Peptides from enzymatically extracted protein hydrolysates that enhance salty taste (SalModuPep)
  • Development of regional organic seasoning sauces on a lupine basis as a salt-reduced and gluten-free alternative to soy products (FLAVORLOOP).
  • Innovative procedure for producing fat-reduced boiled sausage products for high temperature applications by developing and using a fat replacement substance that contains collagen (BRIGHT).
  • Fat structuring for chocolate fillings – optimising the fatty acid profile for improved nutritional properties (FETTSTRUKTUR)
  • New sugars low in calories for food products (HealthySugars)
  • Development of a systematic physico-chemical understanding of sugar reduction in food with Erythritol on a molecular basis (Erythritol)

Over the next few years, research in this field will be further expanded and intensified. As a first step, a new call for proposals was published in February 2019 on promoting “innovations in reducing sugar, fat and salt in processed food and in meals for away-from-home consumption and community catering”.

The following six projects of the Research Association of the German Food Industry (FEI) have been promoted by the German Federation of Industrial Research Associations (AiF) as part of the programme to promote Industrial Collective Research (IGF) initiated by the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy.

  • Enzymatic production of peptides from dairy and egg-white proteins to enhance the salty taste of products
  • Minimising the use of cooking salt in bread recipes while maintaining the baking properties and the quality of taste
  • Injecting gas bubbles in fat-reduced fermented dairy products to generate a creamy texture with forced release of flavouring substances upon consumption
  • Developing new concepts to optimise the structure and sensory qualities of fat-reduced food by protein functionalisation and the application of molecular sensory methods
  • Perception of fat and regulation of satiety: approach for developing fat-reduced food
  • Reducing the tooth-damaging potential of fruit beverages containing sugar via reformulation with anti-cariogenic polyphenols

The Fraunhofer Institute for Process Engineering and Packaging IVV also carries out research on reformulation. Other research projects focus on  the extraction of salt substitute products from algae, the reformulation of lower-calory food (SimLeap, funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research) and fat reduction through double emulsions (basic research on how to influence the micro structure of double emulsions and their impact on product properties that are relevant to the consumer (mouth-feel, creamy texture, taste of fat, satiety), funded by the German Research Foundation).

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