MALAYSIAN NEWS : FEATURES

 
Cholesterol-Free Chocolates, Ice Creams And Eggs: Fact Or Myth
May 01 , 2002
 
By D Sundara Raja

KUALA LUMPUR, May 1 (Bernama)-- Luscious chocolates, ice creams and eggs, traditionally said to be high in cholesterol but hard to resist when served, are now being labelled as cholesterol-free by manufacturers.

There are also other claims such as sugar-free, preservative-free or no artificial flavours, no-caffeine in the labels of many food items and health supplements.

So people can gobble them down as and when they get an opportunity or will tucking into a bar of chocolate leave you with an aftertaste of guilt.

Are the manufacturers capitalising on the Malaysian public's growing health consciousness or are the products genuinely cholesterol-free? These are questions many people, particularly those suffering from heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and other ailments, ponder about before consuming these food items.

The Federation of Malaysian Consumers' Associations (Fomca) president prof Hamdan Adnan says the public trend to be healthy and slim have created a lot of products which were supposed to maintain their health status.

He says many people have a fear of getting a heart attack and cholesterol is a major contributor towards heart disease.

"Therefore it isn't surprising that a lot of companies are trying to make use of this fear against heart disease by having the no-cholesterol claim," say Prof Hamdan.

CHOLESTEROL-FREE PRODUCT

He says among the products popularly claimed to be cholesterol-free are cooking oil, eggs, butter and margarine.

"I think it is very difficult for the consumer to know the truth of the claims," he says.

Hamdan suggests because it's a health claim, any manufacturer making the claim for his product should have the approval of the health ministry and the ministry should verify the claim so that consumers aren't duped.

"I think the health ministry should look into this as it is already a requirements for most drugs to be registered with the ministry and so they should also register any product making a health claim," he says.

Once the products were registered, their contents would be revealed, he explains.

Puan Nik Shabnam Nik Mohd Salleh, Principal Assistant Director of the Health Ministry's Food Quality Control unit says the ministry doesn't consider the claims as health claims but they could be considered under the proposed new Nutrition Labelling and Claims law.

She says the Food Regulations 1985, which would be amended to include the proposed law, is expected to be enforced this year after the industries have been given a grace period to make the changes in their labels and other product literature.

NUTRITION CLAIMS

Industries are permitted to make three types of nutrition claims namely: nutrient content claim, nutrition comparative claim and nutrient function claim (NFC).

Nik Shabnam says health claims, which are entirely different from NFCs, aren't permitted under the proposed new regulations.

A NFC describes a specific role of the nutrient in growth, development and normal functions of the body. Examples are; Calcium helps in the development of strong bones and teeth; Protein helps build and repair body tissues, and Iron is a factor in red blood cell formation.

Health claim means any representation that states, suggests, or implies that a relationship exists between a food or a constituent of that food and health. Such claims could include reduction of disease risk claims which relate to the consumption of a food or food constituent.

Meanwhile, a nutrient content claim describes the level of a nutrient contained in a food while a nutrition comparative claim compares the nutrient levels and or energy value of two or more food.

On Hamdans suggestion to verify the claims, she says the Health Ministry won't verify the claims because it was the responsibility of the product manufacturers or distributors.

"The onus is on the industries to comply," she says.

SAMPLES ANALYSED ON RANDOM BASIS

However, she says the ministry does enforcement by taking samples and analysing them on a random basis.

Citing claims made on bread labels as an example, she says samples are tested for protein and vitamin contents to verify if the producers' claims are true.

"If the results are different from what was claimed, then we can take them to court and charge them," she says.

But she says food products don't have to be registered like what is being done for drugs.

"People who want to produce labels for food items do come to us for advice and we do it for free," she adds.

As to cholesterol claims, the proposed law on Nutrition Labelling and claims only says how the labelling of cholesterol and dietary fibre level should be made.

It stipulates that the amount of cholesterol should be expressed in mg per 100 g or per 100ml or per package if the package contains only a single portion.

To make a claim that a food is "cholesterol free," it should't contain more than 0.005 g of cholesterol per 100 g for solid food and not more than 0.005 g cholesterol per 100 ml for liquids.

In the case of dietary fibre, it should be expressed in a g per 100 g or 100 ml or per package if the package contains only a single portion. In addition this information should be given per serving as quantified on the label.

HEALTHY LIFESTYLE

Hamdan says consumers should also ensure their lifestyle and eating habits are healthy besides looking at alternative natural products that are low in cholesterol.

How can the public know if the product is cholesterol-free? National Heart Institute Dietitian Puan Mary Easaw-John says if it is an animal product, then the cholesterol must be taken off completely.

People with health problems should not be taking any food simply and should be conscientious, she adds.

The consumers should also see what kind of evidence is given to back the health claims such as scientific data, personal testimony or some flimsy reasons.

"The public would never know what is put into some of these products and there may be heavy metal or steroids in them," warned Mary.

-- Bernama