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The CEU Institute for Food and Society (IAS-CEU) develops Tabula®

11/12/2023
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Researchers from the CEU Institute of Food and Society have developed a new Spanish Food Composition Database, providing updated information based on nutritional labelling following the food reformulation carried out in recent years.

This new tool, named Tabula®, allows access to the nutritional composition as declared on the labelling of approximately 6.500 representative foods and beverages, covering around 80% of the current Spanish market. Additionally, it serves as a basis for comparison with data from 2013, enabling the evaluation of the results of the voluntary reformulation process of foods and beverages over the past 10 years.

The following are some of the key aspects highlighted during the presentation ceremony, held today before a panel of experts, in which Elena Andradas, Director General of Public Health at the Regional Ministry of Health in the Community of Madrid was present, along with Coral Barbas, Coordinator of CEU Universities and Gregorio Varela-Moreiras, Director of the CEU Institute of Food and Society.

Monitoring the reformulation plan

"It is only now that we have composition tables that adapt to the current reality, with the processed foods and beverages available in the Spanish market – reflecting the necessity to have validated instruments that would allow us to quantify dietary intake accurately," commented Gregorio Varela-Moreiras, Professor of Nutrition and Bromatology at Universidad CEU San Pablo and lead researcher of this ambitious project.

"Through the Collaboration Plan for the improvement of the composition of foods and beverages promoted by the Spanish Agency for Food Safety and Nutrition (AESAN), many food products have changed their composition since 2017. Therefore, using previous databases to assess current dietary intake would provide an incorrect and biassed picture," Varela-Moreiras continued to explain.

WHO and EuroFIR Nutrient Profile Models

The classification of products has been based on the system used in the Nutrient Profile Model of the World Health Organization (WHO) for the European Region 2023 as well as on the classification system of the European Food Information Network (EuroFIR). This makes Tabula® a reference source of information not only nationally but also at the European level.

Tabula® provides nutritional information for each product based on labelling according to Regulation (EU) No 1169/2011. Specifically, it offers information on its legal name, list of ingredients and allergens, mandatory nutritional information as well as voluntary nutritional information.

Additionally, and as a novelty compared to other food and beverage composition tables, Tabula® includes nutritional declarations regarding total fats, saturated fats, sugars, and salt, in accordance with Regulation (EC) No 1924/2006 on nutrition and health claims made on foods.

This new database is part of the broader project "Impact of food reformulation in Spain on the intake and nutritional quality of diets in children and adolescents" (REFORES; REFORmulation in Spain). It is a more extensive study and evaluation project involving 500 girls and adolescents aged 3 to 17 from all Nielsen areas in Spain.

"The results obtained from this ambitious project will also allow us to cross-reference data with other relevant studies, such as the obesity map recently presented by AESAN, carried out thanks to the data from the ENE-COVID study of 2020, indicating that one-third of the child and adolescent population is overweight and one in ten is obese," stated Varela-Moreiras.

"This dietary survey, of which Tabula® is a part, will also help to find out how the intake of foods and beverages has changed in the last decade in children and adolescents and the new reformulation needs that may arise," stressed the researcher leader.

Information on critical nutrients: fats, saturated fats, sugar, and salt

"The Spanish food market shows a better profile in terms of the content of fats, total sugars, and salt in a good portion of frequently consumed products," commented the main researcher of the project.

Following the WHO Europe classification, and always according to the information declared on the nutritional labelling of the analysed sample, the group that contributes the most fat per 100g or 100mL is "butter, other fats, and similar oils", followed by the "chocolate and sugar confectionery, energy bars, desserts, and sweet toppings" group. "Salty snacks" is the group contributing the third most fat.

The "butter, other fats, and similar oils" group also contributes the most saturated fats, followed by the "cheese" group and the "chocolate and sugar confectionery, energy bars, desserts, and sweet toppings" group.

Regarding total sugar content, the group with the highest content is "chocolate and sugar confectionery, energy bars, desserts, and sweet toppings," followed by the groups "ice cream, popsicles, and sorbets," and "cakes, sweet biscuits and pastries, other bakery and sweet pastry products, and powdered preparations for baking."

Finally, the groups with the highest salt content are "meat, fish, and similar: processed," "salty snacks," and "cheese."

Technical details

The data collection was carried out from websites of the food processing industry and the food distribution industry from January 2022 to October 2023. Continuous updating and validation are planned, for which the CEU Institute of Food and Society at Universidad CEU San Pablo has also provided an email available to the food processing and distribution industry to notify any changes or reformulations of their products (ias@ceu.es).

For the analysis of compliance with the criteria of each nutritional declaration, the fulfilment of the strictest criteria has been considered. For example, if a product meets the criteria of "fat-free," even if it also meets the less restrictive criterion of "low-fat" (less restrictive), Tabula® records only the "fat-free" declaration.

Palabras clave Tabula Database Food Beverages Society