Keto Claims on Products in Mexico
Regarding obesity, Mexico recently passed the United States as the world’s most obese country. Over the past 25 years, the percentage of the Mexican population that is clinically overweight increased from around 20 percent in 1996 to 73 percent in 2020! Today, the Mexican obesity crisis directly affects 16.7 percent of Mexican preschool children, 26.2 percent of school-aged children, 30.9 percent of Mexican adolescents, and 29.9 percent of adults. Of those people who suffer from obesity, over a third are considered to be morbidly obese, which constitutes a severe threat to public health. Given this panorama, the Keto diet has become increasingly popular in Mexico. Health food brands looking to expand into this market should educate themselves on any relevant regulations regarding Keto claims on products in Mexico.
Obesity in Mexico
The drastic rise in obesity rates roughly correlates with the beginning of the North American Free Trade Agreement (1992). The sudden drop in export and import tariffs and the rapid growth of the globalized corporate food industry opened the floodgates to Mexican consumers. The traditional corn-based diet was quickly taken over by manufactured food goods loaded with empty carbohydrates, high levels of sugar, and other highly processed and nutritionally-empty ingredients. Fast forward 25 years, and the result is that Mexico now has the highest rates of obesity, according to the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).
This drastic growth in obesity has harshly affected the overall health of the Mexican population. According to CIDICS-UNAL, the two leading causes of death among the Mexican people were: cardiovascular diseases (25.5 percent of deaths) and endocrine, nutritional, and metabolic diseases (17.5 percent). Diabetes, chronic kidney disease, and ischaemic heart diseases are also highly prevalent in the population. All of these diseases can be directly linked to unhealthy diets leading to the risks that come with obesity.
Despite this painful epidemiologic transition towards a society struggling with obesity-caused chronic diseases, promising efforts are being taken in several sectors of Mexican society to combat and reverse the health crisis of obesity. Below, we briefly outline the recent amendments to the food labeling regulations in Mexico. We will also look at how growing consumer demand for healthier food options is helping to drive a cultural shift towards more nutritious food options. More specifically, we will explore the growing popularity of the Keto diet in Mexico as a pathway toward weight loss and healthier food options. Finally, we’ll explain whether the Mexican government is implementing specific regulations related to the Keto diet and related labeling requirements.
Recent Amendments to Food Labelling Regulations in Mexico and Keto Claims on Products in Mexico
Alongside the troublesome obesity statistics cited above, many Mexican policymakers, health officials, and others have been frustrated by media campaigns led by massive processed food companies that seemingly encourage the consumption of highly processed foods with excessive sugar and unhealthy fats, carbohydrates, sodium, and sugars. Grupo Bimbo, to name just one example, is the largest bakery company in the world and aggressively markets an enormous number of highly processed food products filled with added sugars and empty carbohydrates.
Due to the urgent need to address the public health crisis centered around ballooning rates of obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and other metabolic disorders, in 2020, the Mexican government made several significant changes to its food labeling regulations (Norma Oficial Mexicana NOM-051-SCFI/SSA1-2010). These changes included updating the Nutrition Facts label templates, regularly done by countries worldwide. The new rules require all food products, domestically produced and imported foods destined for the Mexican market, to declare calories, protein, fat, saturated fat, trans fat, carbohydrates, sugar, added sugar, dietary fiber, and sodium on their nutrition label.
More consequential was the introduction of mandatory frontal nutrition labeling (FoP, in Spanish). This addition to the food labeling regulations requires food brands to print warning symbols on the front of their packaging of processed foods if they contain excessive levels of calories, sodium, sugars, and trans and saturated fats.
Mexican lawmakers and health professionals hope that the new warning symbols placed on unhealthy processed foods will discourage consumers from purchasing harmful products, thus leading to lower levels of obesity. Similar frontal labeling laws have been used for many years to de-incentivize the consumption of tobacco and alcohol products. Similar labeling requirements have been in place in Chile since 2016 and have helped to drastically lower the purchase and consumption of sugary soft drinks in the past five years. The new regulations also include warning labels that caution against children consuming items containing caffeine or artificial sweeteners. Given the enormous popularity of carbonated soft drinks in Mexico, this regulation element is a direct effort to encourage consumers to reduce the number of soft drinks that have become a fundamental part of Mexican consumption patterns.
Furthermore, the law also states that: “Prepackaged products that bear one or more warning seals or the legend of sweeteners must not include children’s characters, animations, cartoons, celebrities, athletes or mascots, interactive elements, such as visual-spatial games or digital downloads on the label. Products with an excess of critical nutrients or with sweeteners cannot be aimed at children, and cannot incite, promote or encourage the consumption, purchase or choice of these products.”
The Mexican labeling laws already required mandatory front-of-packaging labeling to present the quantities and percent of daily values of saturated fat, total fat, total sugars, sodium, and calories. In addition, however, the new regulation or amendment adds a black octagonal stop sign symbol with one or more of the following warnings (in Spanish):
- “Excess Calories”
- “Excess Sugars”
- “Excess Saturated Fats”
- “Excess Trans Fats”
- “Excess Calories”
- “Contains Caffeine – Avoid in Children”
- “Contains Sweeteners – Avoid in Children.”
Furthermore, the Mexican government has set specific threshold values above which the warnings will be mandatory. The threshold values for 100-gram solid products or 100-millimeter liquid products are as follows:
- EXCESS CALORIES WARNING: 275 total kcal for solid products and 70 kcal total for liquid products, or more than 10 kcal from added sugars.
- EXCESS SUGARS WARNING: 10 percent total kcal from free sugars, unless a beverage has less than 10 kcal from free sugars.
- EXCESS SATURATED FATS WARNING: More than 10 percent total kcal from saturated fats.
- EXCESS TRANS FATS WARNING: More than 1 percent of total kcal is from trans fats.
- EXCESS SODIUM WARNING: More than 350 mg for solid food products or more than 45 mg for calorie-free beverages.
Interestingly enough, the governments of the United States, Canada, Switzerland, and the European Union asked Mexico (through the World Trade Organization) to postpone the implementation date for the new front of labeling requirements. This shouldn’t be a surprise because the world’s largest multinational food corporations are based in these countries. According to the petition, the countries mentioned above believed that the new front of package labeling requirements was “more restrictive than necessary to meet Mexico’s legitimate health objectives.” In Mexico, Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Jugos del Valle, and Grupo Bimbo were among the leading companies pushing against the new labeling laws.
The Explosion in Popularity of the Keto Diet in Mexico and Keto Claims on Products in Mexico
Several international organizations, including UNICEF, the World Health Organization, the Pan American Health Organization, and others, celebrated the passing of these new labeling requirements. The World Health Organization even gave the country an award recognizing the importance of preventing and controlling non-communicable diseases due to the front-of-package update. Did these new labelling requirements affect Keto claims on products in Mexico?
Though Mexican health authorities were undoubtedly interested in addressing the severe public health crisis associated with obesity caused by unhealthy diets, the labeling laws were also supported by grassroots support and public initiatives. For example, one study found that 83 percent of Mexican adults claimed they were following a diet restricting or limiting certain ingredients. Furthermore, recent economic studies have found that between 8 and 26 percent of the average Mexican household’s weekly expenses are destined for foods that fit into the organic and wellness category. In other words, many Mexican families spend upwards of one-quarter of their household income on healthier diets. This parallels the governmental actions outlined above. It also presents an enormous opportunity for health food companies to introduce more nutritious food options to the Mexican consumer.
Though several different diets are gaining popularity in Mexico, the Keto Diet has been one of the most popular in recent years. Though only some reliable statistics outline this growth in popularity, major retailers like Walmart are specifically marketing Keto products to their consumers. Online health food stores that cater to the Mexican market, like Green Paradise, also have a dedicated Keto products page for their consumers. Given corn’s enormous popularity and cultural significance in traditional Mexican cuisine, low-carb diets might seem like something other than the most popular dietary option. However, companies like Carfioli are developing low-carb alternatives, such as cauliflower tortillas, to help facilitate the transition to low-carb diets.
Despite the surging consumer demand for Keto-friendly food options, the Mexican government still needs to implement specific regulations related to labeling requirements for Keto-related products. Given the lack of explicit mention of the Keto Diet in the food labeling legislation and other relevant laws, food brands operating within the Keto diet space or attempting to reach consumers interested in the Keto diet can feel confident to use the word “Keto” on their labeling. This, of course, is outlawed in the United States, where the FDA expressly prohibits any mention of the word Keto.
Despite the ability to market directly to people within the Keto diet niche, a few stipulations in the recently amended food labeling regulations in Mexico may affect brands seeking to market directly to their Keto diet clientele.
- As we mentioned above, the frontal nutrition labeling (FoP) requires that a warning symbol be placed on processed foods containing high levels of trans and saturated fats. A black warning symbol warning of high levels of trans or saturated fats is not a great way to reach consumers interested in improving their health outcomes. Because many Keto products will have high levels of healthy fats, there could be instances wherein a specific product exceeds the thresholds for trans or saturated fat levels. This would warrant the inclusion of the warning symbol on the packaging. However, it is essential to note that the frontal labeling requirements only apply to processed foods. Also, animal oils, fats, and vegetable oils are exempted from these requirements. You can check the above threshold values to determine if your food product will require the mandatory front-of-package warning.
- As of April 1srt of, 2021, no food brand can offer a health claim on a product if it has one or more warning symbols. As for nutritional claims, these will continue to be accepted if they do not reference certain nutrients that exceed the limit thresholds. Keto food products that have passed the fat point may need to be able to mention health or nutritional claims on their packaging or labeling. This could be interpreted to include any mention of the word diet, such as “Keto diet.”
- The new labeling laws define added sugars as “sugars added during the industrial process.” These are separated from Free Sugars, described as “available mono and disaccharides added to the product plus naturally occurring sugars in honey, fruit, vegetables.” The values for added and free sugars are mandatory on the label. Keto products that rely on alternative sugars must now declare those values on the packaging.
Conclusion: Keto Claims on Products in Mexico
Mexico’s new food labeling laws are certainly a step in the right direction as the country attempts to find ways to address the obesity crisis, which is spiraling out of control. At the same time, rising consumer demand for healthier food options is also helping shift the country back towards a healthier food culture. For health food brands that operate within the Keto diet niche, the lack of prohibitions related to Keto claims on products in Mexico offers an opportunity to directly connect with a growing segment of the consumer base who is interested in losing weight and eating a healthier diet. Though there may be a few challenges related to threshold values as they pertain to total fat values, most health food and Keto food brands should find they are below those values or otherwise exempted from the warning label requirements.