Keto Rules and and Regulations in Australia
The Keto diet craze is often thought to be limited to North America alone. However, as the global obesity epidemic spreads to most countries and regions, dietary programs that promise a quick path to weight loss are gaining popularity. The Keto Diet, which radically reduces carbohydrate intake while increasing the amount of healthy high-fat consumption, is by far the most popular low-carb diet worldwide, including in Australia. When in ketosis, the body can also turn fat into ketones in the liver. This supplies extra energy for the brain. This article looks at some of the Keto rules and regulations in Australia.
Overview of the Keto Diet
With the Keto Diet, the cutback in carbohydrates replaced with healthy fats puts the body into a metabolic state called ketosis, wherein the body burns fat for energy. Because the Keto Diet essentially upends the traditional “food pyramid” by drastically increasing fat consumption while reducing carbs, it has received particular criticism from some nutritionists, doctors, and other medical professionals. Though most people recognize that the Keto Diet leads to quick weight loss, there is a perceived risk that the almost total elimination of certain food groups can lead to potentially serious nutrient deficiencies and stresses to specific body parts.
Despite these criticisms, there is discernible evidence that the high consumption of nutritionally empty, highly refined carbohydrates (including sugary beverages) that characterize the industrial food diet is one of the main drivers of obesity, diabetes, chronic heart disease, and other metabolic diseases. Given this reality, a recent study titled Health Effects of Low-Carbohydrate Diets: Where Should New Research Go states that “the American Diabetes Association has noted that weight and metabolic improvements can be achieved with low carbohydrate, low fat (implicitly higher carbohydrate), or a Mediterranean style diet (usually an intermediate level of carbohydrate).”
Though further research is needed to determine the long-term effects (both potentially positive and negative) of the Keto Diet, there does seem to be a developing consensus that reducing nutritionally empty, refined carbohydrate intake is essential for better overall nutrition and as a path towards reducing obesity.
Because of the relative novelty of the Keto Diet and its propensity to essentially overturn “conventional” nutritional guidance, there has been some strict regulation against Keto and other low-carb claims on food products. For example, the word “Keto” cannot be added to any meat or poultry food product packaging in the United States. The Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), an agency of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), also strictly regulate “low carb” or “zero-carb” claims on food packaging and labels. An official FSIS document published in 2003 states:
An increasing number of carbohydrate-restricted dietary and lifestyle plans are available to consumers today…Claims that, expressly or by implication, characterize the level of a nutrient, may not be made on the labeling of a meat or poultry product unless the claim is made in accordance with the nutrition labeling regulations. Because there are no existing regulations permitting the use of carbohydrate claims on foods governed by the FSIS, labeling of meat and poultry products bearing expressed carbohydrate claims, including, but not limited to, Low Carbohydrate, Lower Carbohydrate, and Carb Free, cannot be approved.
As the Keto Diet and other low-carb diets continue to gain popularity in Australia, several health food brands that cater to Keto and low-carb diet enthusiasts may look to expand into the Australian market. Below, we look at the unfortunate growth of obesity statistics in Australia and explore the growing popularity of the Keto Diet in this part of the world. We then outline the government agencies in charge of food labeling laws and regulations in Australia. We also clarify some pertinent Keto rules and regulations in Australia for food products sold in Australia.
Obesity in Australia
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the worldwide prevalence of obesity nearly tripled between 1975 and 2016. Changes in diet, lack of exercise and physical activity, and other environmental conditions are all responsible for this enormous explosion in the prevalence of obesity worldwide. In Australia, obesity statistics are even worse than the global trend indicates.
The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) reports that in 2017 and 2018, an estimated 2 in 3 (67 percent) Australians aged 18 and over were overweight or obese. That amounts to an estimated 12.5 million adults suffering from obesity in Australia. The statistics found that 36 percent were overweight but not obese, and 31 percent were obese.
Furthermore, the AIHW states that “in 2015, 8.4 percent of Australia’s total disease burden was due to overweight and obesity. Overweight and obesity was the leading risk factor contributing to the non-fatal burden (living with the disease).” In Australia, the “burden of disease” measures the impact of living with illness and injury and dying prematurely. The summary measure ‘disability-adjusted life years’ (or DALY) measures the years of healthy life lost from death and disease.
As in other parts of the world, the severe and negative health impacts of being obese or overweight have been shown to increase the likelihood of developing many chronic conditions, such as cardiovascular disease, asthma, back problems, chronic kidney disease, dementia, diabetes, and some cancers.
The Obesity Evidence Hub, a joint project resulting from a partnership between the Cancer Council Victoria, the Bupa Health Foundation, and the Obesity Policy Coalition, reports that “very few Australian adults are meeting guidelines for the recommended daily intake of fruit and vegetables, with a high proportion of total daily energy intake coming from discretionary food and drinks.”
The Obesity Evidence Hub also relates that only 15 percent of Australian adults aged 18-64 meet physical activity and strength training guidelines. An additional 59.5 percent of 19 to 30-year-olds exceed recommended limits on energy from free sugars. More than one-third (35 percent) of total daily energy in 2011-12 in the diets of Australian adults came from foods and beverages classified as discretionary (those not necessary for nutrients but high in saturated fat, salt, or sugar).
Nutrition analyses find that the discretionary food intake of the average Australian adult includes high numbers of alcoholic drinks, soft drinks, cakes and muffins, chocolate, fried potato products, sweet biscuits, and pastries. All of these common and popular food options that make up a significant part of the daily food intake of Australians are filled with nutritionally empty and highly refined carbohydrates, one of the leading causes of obesity.
It shouldn’t be surprising that a 2021 national survey revealed that 60 percent of Australians are currently trying to lose weight. The Keto Diet and other low-carb diets which promise rapid weight loss are thus becoming increasingly popular in Australia.
The popularity of the Keto Diet in Australia
In 2020, the Keto Diet was named Australia’s most popular diet 2020. During that year, one report revealed that the Keto diet generated around 115,000 online searches every month. It was also the most “Googled diet” worldwide during that same time. As more and more Australians turn to the Keto Diet to meet their weight loss goals, some government agencies are beginning to propose official guidelines and statements regarding the Keto trend.
According to Health Direct, an Australian Government free health information website:
A ketogenic diet will usually lead to rapid weight loss. This may be due to water loss and because you get less hungry because the diet is high in foods containing fat and protein.
There have been only limited and small studies on the ketogenic diet for weight loss. These studies have shown that the diet has short-term benefits in some people, including weight loss and improvements in total cholesterol, blood sugar, and blood pressure, but at one year, these effects are about the same as those of conventional weight loss diets.
While a ketogenic diet can be fast and effective in the short term, it can be hard to maintain because it is very limiting. This means a large number of people tend to drop out of the diet, contributing to unhealthy, ‘yo-yo’ dieting behaviour. The key to maintaining a healthy weight in the long-term is an eating pattern that you can sustain over time.
The fact that major governmental agencies in Australia offer relatively neutral statements regarding the effectiveness of the Keto Diet might be an advantage for companies looking to expand into the Australian market, given the relatively lax Keto rules and regulations in Australia. For comparison, the U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC) states, “more and more studies show that people respond differently to diets. For example, some lose weight on low carb; some gain weight.”
Who is Responsible for Food Labelling in Australia?
For health food companies who think Australia might be an excellent market to grow and expand their brand, it is crucial to understand the country’s relevant food labeling laws and regulations. In Australia, the Food Standards Australia and New Zealand (FSANZ) develops food standards for the Australian and New Zealand food industries.
The Code, a legislative instrument under the Legislation Act 2003, is enforced by state and territory departments, agencies, and local councils in Australia; the Ministry for Primary Industries in New Zealand and the Australian Department of Agriculture and Water Resources for food imported into Australia.
Does the FSANZ Implement Keto Rules and Regulations in Australia for Food Products Sold in Australia?
The Australian food standards and labeling requirements do not have any specific Keto rules and regulations in Australia or other low-carb claims for food products manufactured in Australia or imported to the country.
Though the Code does not explicitly mention the Keto diet or other low-carb nutrition paradigms, a few standards within the legislation might have some relevance.
- Standard 1.2.3: Information requirements – warning statements, advisory statements, and declarations: This standard outlines some of the information requirements for food products that contain certain ingredients or additives that may cause allergic reactions or other potentially dangerous medical conditions.
- Standard 1.2.7: Nutrition, health and related claims: This section outlines the regulations on health and nutrition claims that food products make on their packaging or labeling. Some of the potentially relevant regulations in this area include:
- A descriptor must not be used in a nutrition content claim about glycemic load unless that descriptor is expressed as a number or in numeric form.
- Nutrition claims can be included if sanctioned by an endorsing body, which is defined as a not-for-profit entity that: (a) has a nutrition- or health-related purpose or function; and (b) permits a supplier to make an endorsement.
- A nutrition content claim must be stated together with a statement about the form of the food to which the claim relates unless the form of the food to which the claim relates is the food as sold.
It is also interesting to note that related to the labeling provisions, the Australian food labeling law requires that foods produced using gene technology include the statement “genetically modified” in conjunction with the name of the genetically modified food.
For more information on food labeling requirements in Australia, you can read the entire Code at this link.
The Final Word on Keto rules and regulations in Australia
In Australia, there is no established official “Keto” or “Low-Carb” food classification by the FSANZ (Food Standards Australia New Zealand). The Keto rules and regulations in Australia and other food standards do not mention the word Keto, nor do they specifically mention low-carb claims. For marketing and packaging purposes, health food brands and products can identify themselves (by name or on the label) as “Keto,” “Keto-friendly,” “Low Carb,” or other similar claims. For health food brands considering expanding into the Australian market, this opens the door for marketing and publicity opportunities to directly connect with the growing crowd of Australians interested in Keto or other low-carb diets.