EFSA panel adopts energy conversion factor for sweetener D-tagatose – consultant calls for guidance

By Annie Harrison-Dunn

- Last updated on GMT

EFSA gave only tentative metabolisable energy values between 2.67 and 3.45 kcal/g (11.15 and 14.44 kJ/g) because of a lack of data. © iStock.com
EFSA gave only tentative metabolisable energy values between 2.67 and 3.45 kcal/g (11.15 and 14.44 kJ/g) because of a lack of data. © iStock.com

Related tags Nutrition functional beverage beverage

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has adopted a draft opinion on the energy conversion factor for 'functional sweetener' D-tagatose, meaning its calorie count can be listed on product labels.

The opinion was requested by the European Commission and based on a dossier from Belgian food engineering company Nutrilab NV and submitted by Swiss regulatory service Bioresco.

It is important to find an energy conversion factor comparable to other nutrients – such as carbohydrate (4 kcal/g - 17 kJ/g), protein (4 kcal/g - 17 kJ/g) or fat (9 kcal/g - 37 kJ/g) – to synchronise nutrition labelling, which in the EU can contain both kilocalories (kcal) and kilojoules (kJ).

Yet EFSA gave only tentative metabolisable energy values between 2.67 and 3.45 kcal/g (11.15 and 14.44 kJ/g) because of a lack of data.

Energy conversion factors for nutrients for labelling have previously been set based on the concept of ‘metabolisable energy’, which means the energy available after accounting for losses of ingested energy in faeces, urine, gases from fermentation in the large intestine and waste products lost from surface areas.

However the panel said there was not enough data to do this accurately for D-tagatose. It therefore looked to its ‘gross energy’, meaning the energy content of food measured by complete combustion, and then estimated metabolisable energy from there.  

“The Panel considers that additional data on the absorption, distribution, metabolism and excretion of D-tagatose in humans would help in the calculation of a more accurate energy conversion factor for D-tagatose based on the concept of metabolisable energy,”​ according to a draft summary of the conclusion seen by NutraIngredients.

D-Tagatose was approved as a novel food ingredient​ back in 2005 following an application from Danish company Arla Food Ingredients via Bioresco.

The ingredient is a sugar similar in structure to fructose found naturally in heat-treated dairy products.

It is slightly less sweet than table sugar and provides less energy.

“The non-carcinogenicity, prebiotic activity, low glycaemic impact and reduced energy value of D-tagatose are the main reasons for its use in sweet tasting foods,”​ according to Arla's novel food dossier.

This year, following three years of delay, EFSA's health claim positive opinion linking sugar replacement and tooth health was written into EU law books. 

While the claim was for non-fermentable carbohydrates like maltidextrose and other oligosaccharides, it is not exclusive to those as other sugar replacers including D-tagatose have already won EFSA approval.

Guidance please

Commenting at an Dietetic Products, Nutrition and Allergies (NDA) panel plenary meeting open to stakeholders yesterday (29 June), Intertek consultant Nigel Baldwin urged EFSA to provide guidance on the evidence required for energy conversion factors.

He said his ongoing work on novel low-calorie food ingredients had prompted him to write to EFSA requesting the guidance and had been expecting greater feedback during today’s meeting in Brussels.

However Valeriu Curtui, head of EFSA’s unit on nutrition, said this would continue to be done on a case-by-case basis as requests came in, a position confirmed by the European Commission’s representative at the meeting, Stephanie Bodenbach.

The draft D-tagatose opinion will now be opened up for public consultation over the summer, with a final copy expected to be adopted “ideally”​ by October, the panel said.

Watch this space

The opinion passed with no comments, which the panel put down to extensive discussion previously.  

Other items on the agenda for the day included draft scientific and technical guidance for health claim applications; a draft opinion on Dietary Reference Values (DRVs) for potassium; a draft report on the outcome of a public consultation on the draft opinion on for vitamin D as well as the DRV for vitamin D itself. All documents were endorsed by the panel.

Today (30 June) the panel discussed guidance for the preparation applications for infant and/or follow-on formula manufactured from protein hydrolysates; a draft DRV for sodium and a draft DRV for chloride. 

meeting consultant

Stakeholders at the two-day open meeting included representatives from food giants like Cargill, Nestlé, Chr. Hansen and Mead Johnson Nutrition as well as trade groups the European Dairy Association (EDA) and Specialised Nutrition Europe (SNE).

This year marks the first year all ten of EFSA’s panels have met for open meetings in Brussels. 

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