The Australia New Zealand Food Authority (ANZFA) has called for cholesterol-reducing phytosterols to be banned as an ingredient in foods, claiming that they are not necessarily safe for children or women who are pregnant or lactating.

Evidence that phytosterols inhibit the absorption of beta-carotene has made them popular as a food ingredient that can also reduce cholesterol. They have also been clinically proven to alleviate arthritis and improve the immune system.

The growing range of foods containing them, such as milk, breakfast bars and even mayonnaise, is causing concern among ANZFA officials however, who claim that intake cannot be properly monitored and excessive consumption may reduce the body's absorption of some vitamins.

Manufacturers already place warnings on packaging that the products containing phytosterols are not suitable for the risk groups highlighted by ANZFA, but the authority claims that these may not stop such products getting into children's hands.

Phytosterols, which derive from vegetable oils, have now become the first food ingredient to be assessed under the Novel Foods Standard, and manufacturers such as Goodman Fielder have revealed that they will be seeking approval for their product ranges.

ANZFA commented that people on specific cholesterol-reducing diets should seek advice from their doctors. It added that the current levels of phytosterols in margarine or butter substitutes were minimal, so these products would not be affected by the ban.