Identifying bioactive components and portion sizes in avocados for consumer health (AV09000)
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What was it all about?
Food Standards Australia New Zealand was developing a new food standard that may have allowed the use of more health claims for foods on packaging and in advertising. At the time nutrient content and nutrient function claims for foods were generally permitted, but claims about health enhancement or reduction of risk of diseases were not permitted. It was unlikely that other claims about reduced risk of serious diseases (such cancer or cardiovascular disease) or prevention of macular degeneration could be made without substantial further research. The literature was searched for evidence that could support a health claim for avocados and it was concluded that there was not enough evidence to support a health claim specific to avocados at the time.
There were several nutrients that had potential for nutrient claims in avocados. These were: total phytosterols, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids, folate, Niacin (Vitamin B3), and total dietary fibre.
The high phytosterol content of Hass and Shepard avocados was an important finding, with the potential to be used to promote avocados as healthy food which could help to reduce blood LDL cholesterol levels with the associated beneficial effects on cardiovascular health. High levels of monounsaturated fats were confirmed and this finding added weight to the idea that avocados had significant potential benefits on cardiovascular health, similar to olive oil.
Avocados were an excellent source of dietary fibre, at a high enough level for a good source claim. Avocados needed to be actively promoted for their dietary fibre content. Avocados contained folate at a level high enough to support a good source nutrient claim.
Avocados were mainly purchased in the fresh state and it was likely to be the consumer who determined portion size depending on the way in which the food was going to be used. In this context nutritional information on 100g would remain useful, preferably supplemented with recipe and culinary suggestions. Replacing fruit or fat servings with avocados did have an impact on the total nutrient composition of the diet. The nutrients affected by replacing a fat serving were less significant than replacing a fruit serving and therefore it was suggested that avocado be considered as a healthy fat alternative within the context of a healthy balanced diet.
Avocados were recognised as a food product of interest by all participants in the focus group sessions. Three key influences relating to convenience, food use and healthiness perceptions
(nutrition messages) were identified as having an impact on the regular inclusion of avocados in the diet across all groups, although variations in emphasis was evident depending on the life stage and gender of the main grocery buyer.
Convenience was the primary reported influence on choice of food shopping venues in all groups. However the participants reported there was an acknowledged trade off with limiting shopping venues to large supermarkets. The taste preferences of spouses and children reportedly influenced the ways in which avocados were utilised in the home. Overall, avocados were reported to be used primarily as a snack or a fat replacement product. It was often used to replace margarine or butter on sandwiches and added to salads. The messages related to avocados were seen to be reassuring for the younger participants but were not seen to be particularly useful. Messages specifically referring to antioxidant and vitamins were often related to beauty products as opposed to foods and messages that were strongly associated with other product categories. The wording of the messages had a strong impact on the acceptance of the claim with scientific terms often rejected.
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This project was funded by Hort Innovation (then Horticulture Australia Limited) using the avocado industry levy and funds from the Australian Government.
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