The issue of protein quality was raised again this week upon the release of a sports nutrition opinion from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).
The opinion stuck largely to the conclusions of EFSA’s predecessor the Scientific Committee on Food (SCF) and failed to take into account the progress made on protein since this 2001 document, according to Suzane Leser, head of nutrition for Volac.
Coupled with the EU’s lack of a set quality measuring method, the EU protein industry was in increasing danger of falling into the same sticky situation as its transatlantic counterparts, she told NutraIngredients.
“Protein quality written in law would help sports nutrition in Europe to avoid the emerging issue of ‘protein spiking’ that has hit the US market.”
In the US this has largely been due to a legal loophole that stated manufacturers must calculate the amount of protein in foods and supplements using a factor of nitrogen, but did not specify what the source of that nitrogen should be.
Leser has been campaigning to have the Codex-backed protein quality measurement method DIAAS (the digestible indispensable amino acid score) written into EU food law for the past few years.
“Protein quality is a matter that has not been yet sufficiently addressed in European food law, partially because we still don’t have a good method to measure it.”
Sport the difference
Commenting on this week’s EFSA opinion in a blog post Dr Mark Tallon, managing director of consultancy firm Legal Foods, said EFSA had ignored the issue of protein and
“In the case of protein, those who want a way to communicate legally ‘protein quality’ i.e. whey isolate versus collagen will note EFSA simply does not believe there are any differences.”
He added: “This rubs against the views of many sports nutritionists and a significant volume of literature demonstrating the effects of protein source and muscle growth can be significantly different.”
Campaign for changes
In 2013 the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) called the DIAAS a "preferable" method of measuring protein quality to the traditional protein digestibility–corrected amino acid score (PDCAAS).
However Leser said making this law in the EU would be “inevitably a long process”.
Given the recent turmoil on the US market with a spate of lawsuits pending, this was now more important than ever.
“The current definition of protein on labelling allows for protein to be calculated from any source of nitrogen, including non-protein sources or cheaper sources, such as creatine, glycine, taurine and other non-essential free amino acids,” she said.
“This may result in a higher protein content in the nutrition information table than is actually in the product. Enforcing the need for high protein quality is one measure that would protect businesses and consumers from deliberate or unintentional ‘protein spiking’ whilst the law is not clear.”
This wasn’t something particular to the sports nutrition market, she said, but impacting the health foods industry more broadly as protein consumption became more mainstream and more and more firms looked to use the EU-approved health claims for growth in and maintenance of muscle mass.
“In the long-term, the definition of protein on labelling needs to be revised to fit in with the needs of the market.”