What are “foods intended for weight control”, also known as “slimming foods”?

“Foods intended for weight control”, also known as “slimming foods”, are foods that help people control their weight, including overweight or obese people. These carefully formulated and nutritionally balanced products guarantee that consumers will receive the same level of essential nutrients despite important energy restriction in the diet.
The profile of these products is designed to maintain a healthy diet, ensuring adequate macro and micronutrients intakes: both in terms of quantity and quality.
Slimming foods can also give people confidence in their own progress and can help them achieve their ultimate goal of returning to a balanced diet, a better lifestyle, and a healthy weight. These foods can be used with the help of a healthcare professional.

What different forms can slimming foods take and why so many?

Different forms of slimming foods are available within the different categories, in different tastes, textures and product forms, making it easier to follow the diet while maximising the chance of success.

  • Flavoured powders (in tins, single dose, sachets) for preparation of:
    • Shakes;
    • Soups;
    • Custards, etc.
  • Ready to drink shakes and ready to eat dishes;
  • Cereal and flavoured bars;
  • Snacks

The largest possible range of slimming foods have been developed considering the technological constraints, the nutritional needs and the nutritional regulatory criteria. Variety is key for the success in the compliance to restricted diets. The challenge of slimming foods industry is to work on acceptability of their products in term of taste, cost and variety.

What benefits do these products bring to consumers?

Slimming foods offer various benefits to consumers:

  • Efficient weight loss: Slimming foods allow consumers to lose weight in safe slimming rhythms and/or to maintain weight after weight loss. A proper slimming rhythm is more likely to help maintain weight loss on the long term, and avoid a “yo-yo effect”. Some popular diets which are not nutritionally balanced may produce dramatic initial weight losses, which cannot be sustained in the long term, and are usually associated with negative side effects. Studies also show that adherence to a diet using slimming foods is usually higher than diets with the same calorie amount but exclusively based on conventional food[1]. This is why using slimming foods is so efficient.
  • Safe products: For decades and due to their specific composition, slimming foods have been proven to be totally safe when used properly. The complete and well balanced nutritional profile of slimming foods guarantees their safe use, whereas this is not always possible to achieve with popular diets based on conventional food and restricted in calories (less than 1200). Indeed, due to imbalanced macro- and micronutrient intake, some popular diets have shown to produce significant side effects, even when used properly (such as increased cardiovascular risk or hepatic damage[2];
  • Convenient products for the purpose of weight control : slimming foods are developed to meet particular nutritional needs of a balanced slimming diets: the portion, the nutritional composition, the specific instructions of use help consumers to control their weight without complex calculation of calories, of level and quality of protein, levels of essential fatty acids, levels of vitamins and minerals. By this simplified way, slimming foods reinforce the chance to respect a balanced restricted diet to the benefice of consumers;
  • Costs / benefits: Economically accessible to a majority of consumers : despite their high nutritional quality, slimming foods meal replacements ‘cost is less than a meal in a fast food

[1] Wadden TA, Butryn ML, Byrne KJ. Efficacy of lifestyle modification for long-term weight control. Obes Res. 2004 Dec;12 Suppl:151S-62S. Review ; EFSA Panel on Dietetic Products, Nutrition and Allergies (NDA); Scientific Opinion on the substantiation of health claims related to meal replacements for weight control (as defined in Directive 96/8/EC on energy restricted diets for weight loss) and reduction in body weight (ID 1417), and maintenance of body weight after weight loss (ID 1418) pursuant to Article 13(1) of Regulation (EC) No 1924/2006. EFSA Journal 2010; 8(2):1466. [19 pp.]. doi:10.2903/j.efsa.2010.1466. Available online: www.efsa.europa.eu. Heymsfield SB, van Mierlo CA, van der Knaap HC, Heo M and Frier HI, 2003. Weight management using a meal replacement strategy: meta and pooling analysis from six studies. International Journal of Obesity and Related Metabolic Disorders, 27, 537-549.

[2] http://www.bda.uk.com/news/111117CelebDiets.html and Agence nationale de sécurité sanitaire de l’alimentation, de l’environnement et du travail. Évaluation des risques liés aux pratiques alimentaires d’amaigrissement. Rapport d’expertise collective. Édition scientifique Novembre 2010.

What types of micronutrients do slimming foods have?

Slimming foods are formulated with specific and mandatory minimum levels of vitamins and minerals contents to prevent risk of deficiency due to energy restricted diets.

  • Total diet replacement (TDR):
    “All is in the box”: One day of total daily replacement provides adequate amounts of all essential micronutrients for the day.
  • Meal replacement for weight control:
    The content of meal replacements in micronutrients is a safety level and represents a significant part of Nutritional reference values. Consumers are generally advised to take one or two meal replacements per day, according to their objectives, weight maintenance in the first case and weight loss in the second one. The total daily intake is completed by consumption of conventional healthy and balanced food in the rest of the diet.

What role can slimming foods play in a context of obesity, a key public health concern?

Obesity is commonly regarded as one of the most serious public health concerns of the 21st century, representing a major preventable cause of chronic illness and death. At both International and EU level obesity has been identified as a main risk factor for a number of serious diseases including type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, metabolic syndrome, certain types of cancer, and even depression, leading to a reduced life expectancy and quality of life.

In Europe, around 50% of consumers are overweight (BMI 25-30) and more than 20% are obese (BMI>30). This shows that there is a worsening trend of inappropriate diets and low physical activity levels across the region.

Dieting is a recognised pillar for the treatment of obesity, but it is essential that consumers have access to the right information and products in order to effectively manage their nutritional needs and to safely reach their individual objectives for the necessary or intended weight loss. Slimming foods provide this type of information and an adequate nutritional composition.

This information is not only instructions of use of these slimming foods but also when diet is not exclusively composed of slimming foods the right way to combine slimming foods and normal foods in balanced daily diets.

What type of information is provided on slimming foods labels to help consumers to understand how to use these products?

Slimming foods provide specific labelling information so that consumers have access to the right information on the individual product and its use, helping them to effectively manage their nutritional needs. In accordance with the current EU rules, and as recommended by healthcare professionals, slimming foods bear:

  • Specific instructions of use, with different steps necessary for successful weight loss/ control;
  • Indication of the specific conditions where medical supervision is necessary,
  • especially if used over a prolonged period of time;
  • Any relevant warning statement such as the need to consume enough liquid or informing certain types of consumers to avoid slimming diets without consulting a medical professional;
  • For total daily replacements, a statement that the product provides adequate amounts of all essential nutrients for the day;
  • In case of meal replacements, a statement to the effect that the products are useful for their intended use only as part of an energy-restricted diet and that other foodstuffs should be a necessary part of the diet as well.

How are slimming foods regulated at EU level?

In order to protect consumers and to guarantee a safe and efficient weight loss/ control, slimming products need to comply with the following specific EU rules:

  • Regulation (EU) No 609/2013 on food intended for infants and young children, food for special medical purposes, and total diet replacement for weight control. This regulation does not cover meal replacement, which will fall under general food law regulation.
  • Regulation (EU) No 2016/1413 establishing a list of permitted health claims made on foods, other than those referring to the reduction of disease risk and to children’s development and health. This regulation includes authorisation for health claims related to weight loss and weight maintenance for meal replacements with conditions of use specifying what these meal replacements are.

Approved EU health claims

Scientific evidence forms the basis for designing and manufacturing these products. For this reason, the two following claims have been approved for meal replacements on the basis of Regulation (EU) No 2016/1413:

  • “Substituting one of the main daily meals of an energy restricted diet with a meal replacement contributes to the maintenance of weight after weight loss”; and
  • “Substituting two of the main daily meals of an energy restricted diet with meal replacements contributes to weight loss”

What are sports foods?

Sports foods are products specifically formulated for and marketed to sportspeople.

They ensure an appropriate supply of fluids, nutrients and/or substances which help the body prepare for, maintain and recover from high intense physical performance.

Very intense physical performance is a peculiar condition of use which makes the reference population vulnerable to nutritional deficiencies or even injuries or prone to imbalances.

What is the difference between sports foods and energy drinks?

Sports foods differ dramatically in their composition and usage from energy drinks, which are soft drinks, intended to boost mental energy by the use of stimulants.

Energy drinks [1]are not suitable for maintaining or restoring hydration and sodium status, which are key needs of sports people.

Sports food has a nutritional composition adapted for a physical activity (before, during and after).

[1] The term “energy drinks” is a designation name and does not refer to any regulatory definition. These beverages are presented by manufacturers as possessing stimulating properties both physically and intellectually. These beverages are not to be confused with “sports drinks”, whose nutritional composition is adapted physical activity (before, during and/or after physical activity). The so-called “energy drinks” contain a mixture of different compounds as caffeine, taurine, glucuronolactone and group B vitamins, sugars or sweeteners. They may also contain extracts of certain plants (ANSES report).

Who are the consumers of food intended for sports people? Are these foods intended for professional sport people only?

Sports foods can be used by any active individuals performing endurance exercise and/ or high intensity performance whether they are professionals, ambitious amateur athletes or sports enthusiasts. Sports foods are used by individuals undertaking all types of exercise including endurance, bodybuilding, and team sports.

Sports and physical activity represent a way of life for millions of Europeans, both on a professional or an amateur level. 45% of Europeans practice intense physical activity at least once a week[1].

[1] According to the Special Eurobarometer 412 – Sports and Physical Activity, March 2014

Is there a risk that non-athletes may be confused and consume these products?

The specificities of sports foods are clearly indicated on the product labels, and consumers are provided with adequate and clear information about the intended use of these products.

They are also usually sold in a separate section of the store so that consumers are able to clearly distinguish sports foods from foods for general consumption.

Why specific foods for sportspeople?

Sports and other physical activities may push the body to extreme conditions, and sportsmen and athletes have very specific nutritional needs. Proper nutrition is critical to prepare for, maintain and recover from high-level sporting performance.

During intense muscular exercise, the body needs more nutrients than during periods of non-intense activity. Sportspeople require intense hydration to replace sweat loss during exercise, as well as higher energy intake and higher sodium intake to compensate for losses and prevent the risk of dehydration.

Additionally, they need higher protein amount for muscle performance and according to the situations might need some specific substances as some minerals and vitamins.

What are the different types of sports foods?

Sports foods can be presented in many different formats including drinks, powders, bars, gels, and tablets. Generally speaking, sports foods can be divided into different subcategories including:

  • Carbohydrate-rich energy food products: products high in glycaemic carbohydrates essential before, during and after exercise for providing energy;
  • Carbohydrate-electrolyte solutions: drinks providing electrolytes and carbohydrates as the major energy source which are effective in maintaining or restoring hydration status and in maintaining endurance and/ or high-intensity performance;
  • Protein and protein components: high protein and essential amino acids products that help muscle maintenance/gain by ensuring a good synthesis of proteins; and
  • Supplements containing substances such as caffeine, amino acids or creatine: products which help to improve exercise performance capacity and/or enhance training adaptations by allowing an individual in certain circumstances to tolerate heavier training to a greater degree by helping recover faster or helping to stay injury-free and/or healthy during intense training.

What is the difference between sports foods and doping, and how can consumers be sure that sports foods do not contain doping substances?

SNE members manufacture sports foods applying very stringent Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) to provide sports food consumers with very high anti-doping substances guarantees.

SNE members support the development and promotion of specific standards of quality for sports foods, which will encourage Member States to contribute to the international fight against doping and increase consumer protection.

What are the EU rules on doping? Are there national initiatives in the anti-doping area?

Currently there is no harmonised system for testing for doping substances in Europe.

Many different initiatives are present at national level to provide a solution for anti-doping testing and provide guarantees to consumers, including LGC in the UK, Kölner Liste in Germany and AFNOR in France.

To harmonise the rules, work is in progress to develop a standard on doping substances in sports food and food supplements. SNE supports this ongoing work – via the European Committee for Standardisation (CEN) – aiming at developing a EU-wide standard on doping substances in sports food and food supplements. The future standard will ensure a European referential of protection for sportspeople in Europe. SNE is observer organisation to this CEN work.

What type of information is provided on sport foods labels to help consumers to understand how to use them?

A range of specific information is provided to consumers to explain the correct use of sports foods, including:

  • Nutritional characteristics of the product;
  • Condition of use whether before, during, or after exercise; and recommendation of daily intake or intake during training, which helps to avoid overdose and provide the right amount of nutrients before, during or after exercise.

What is the added value of sports foods in comparison with foods for normal consumption?

The following aspects make Sport food so special in comparison with foods for normal consumption:

  • Additional nutrients: Sports foods contain a variety of beneficial mineral salts, vitamins and nutrients that are particularly beneficial to athletes before, during and after exercise;
  • Good quality of ingredients (example : amino acids);
  • Convenience/ easy transport: The convenient form of sports foods makes it easier for athletes to consume high quality nutrients in the right amounts and at the right times. Moreover, sports foods are easy to transport and do not bruise or deteriorate in quality when carried in sports bags. They are also preserved for longer periods of time, in comparison with fruits or other perishable items;
  • Information/ education: Sports foods provide a range of specific information to the consumers to explain their intended use, the conditions of use, and recommending the daily intake or intake during training;
  • Good Manufacturing Practices for anti-doping substances; and
  • Profiling of products or adaptation of the products to the very specific needs.

What is the current status of this category at EU level?

On 15 June 2016, the European Commission published a report on food intended for sportspeople, which concluded that sports food could be appropriately regulated under general EU food law, but recognized that the specificities of these foods may have to be taken into account in the application and implementation of the horizontal rules. Some adaptations could be needed to adequately address their specificities. The European Commission specified that it would ensure proper application of horizontal legislation and monitor the developments after 20th July 2016.

Why do sports foods need a clear definition?

A definition of sports foods is currently missing in the European legislation. However, it is essential that a specific definition for sports foods is established at European level in order to distinguish these products- which have been scientifically designed to meet the specific nutritional needs of sports people- from general food products. SNE suggests the following definition:
“Sport food” means food specifically designed, formulated and marketed in relation to physical activity, physical performance and/or post-exercise recovery.”

Why a Call has been launched by several EU associations to clarify the future EU legislative framework for Sports food?

Specialised Nutrition Europe (SNE), EU Specialty Food Ingredients, the European Vegetable Protein Association (EUVEPRO) and Food Supplements Europe (FSE) collectively call for appropriate adaptations to general EU food law and harmonisation in some areas, to ensure the safe use and appropriate labelling of sports food in the EU.

On 15 June 2016, the European Commission published a report, which concluded that sports food could be appropriately regulated under general EU food law, but recognized that the specificities of these foods may need to be taken into account in the application and implementation of current horizontal EU rules.

So far, no such measures have been taken.

Sports foods are a category of food that are specifically formulated to meet the specific nutritional requirements needed to support physical performance (intense/ recreational) and recovery after exercise. These foods therefore need to:

  • Contain nutrients (vitamins,. minerals, proteins, amino acids, sugars, etc.) in different levels to those established for normal foods
  • Communicate on the intended use of sports foods in order to adequately inform consumers and ensure the correct use of these products ;
  • Use nutrition claims that are not allowed for normal foods but are appropriate for sports foods;
  • Label the nutritional composition in a way that is relevant for the intended use of sports foods.

The diversity of national rules or interpretations is threatening the functioning of the EU single market, creates operational burdens and hinders innovation for companies. It would also lead to consumers not having access to the same or equivalent products in all Member States.

Why this Code of Practice?

SNE emphasises that the scientific dialogue between healthcare professionals and the infant nutrition industry is essential for optimal childcare and nutrition. SNE endorses industry’s responsibility to maintain the highest ethical standards in such interactions.

What is the Code about?

The SNE Code therefore sets clear rules regarding industry’s interactions with healthcare professionals on infant nutrition, feeding and health. The SNE Code is based on existing EU legislation as well as on existing Codes that were put in place at national level by SNE member associations. It also contains additional and/or more detailed provisions not covered by EU legislation (e.g. on lifelong learning activities organised by the private sector).

Who and what is covered by the Code?

The Code lays down best practices for SNE member associations and their member companies. It applies to their interactions with healthcare professionals and their organisations, taking place in the European countries where SNE’s member associations are located (see ‘our members’ page here). This Code applies to interactions with regard to infant formula, follow-on formula and foods for special medical purposes intended for infants.

When will the Code apply?

SNE’s member associations across 19 European countries are encouraged, in line with their statutes and national context, to either adopt this Code of Practice and/or to review and update their existing Codes, by 31 December 2024.