Decoding Food Label Nutrition Claims: Part 1
Up until the late 1960s, there was little information on food labels to identify the nutrient content of the food. During that time most meals were prepared from basic ingredients at home, and there was little demand for nutritional information. However, as the number of processed foods increased, consumers began to request for more information on food labels that would help them understand the products they purchased.
Today, all packaged foods by law must specify: the common name of the product, the ingredients, the Nutrition Facts, the 8 major allergens, the name and address of the manufacturer, and the amount of food in the package expressed in weight, measure or numeric count. Along with this required information, almost every packaged food in the supermarket today also bears a variety of claims such as low sodium, nonfat, or not bioengineered. While food claims might seem like marketing tactics used by companies to get customers to buy their products, certain claims are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (F.D.A.). These claims can provide consumers with helpful information to help them make informed buying decisions.
There are three major types of nutrition claims:
Nutrient Content Claims such as no salt added, high fiber, and no added sugar are examples of claims that refer to the amount of a particular nutrient within the food. Nutrient Content Claims often refer to the fat, sodium, sugar, or cholesterol content in a food. These claims can be help consumers to meet targeted nutrition goals.
Health Claims describe the potential health benefit of a food or food component to lower the risk of a disease or health-related condition. Health Claims are strictly regulated by the F.D.A. and are backed by scientific evidence. Examples include: adequate calcium throughout life, as part of a well-balanced diet, may reduce the risk of osteoporosis and diets low in sodium may reduce the risk of high blood pressure. To see the health claims approved by the F.D.A., visit FDA.gov.
Structure/Function Claims describe the way a nutrient or a food substance may affect health. These claims cannot suggest any link to a lowered risk for disease. Unlike health claims, these types of claims don’t need to be pre-approved by the F.D.A., but they must be truthful and not misleading. Examples include: calcium builds strong bones or antioxidants maintain cell integrity.
Today, food labels also carry claims such as healthy or describe how a food was raised, grown, or processed.
GMO Claims – GMOs, genetically modified organisms, are defined by the World Health Organization (W.H.O.) as, “…organisms (i.e. plants, animals or microorganisms) in which the genetic material (DNA) has been altered in a way that does not occur naturally by mating and/or natural recombination.” This type of technology is also called bioengineering or modern biotechnology. Labels identifying if a food was produced using bioengineering can be voluntarily put on food packaging by food manufactures. On food packaging you may see terms like: “not bioengineered” or “not genetically engineered.”
No Antibiotics or Raised Without Antibiotics – regulated by the U.S.D.A.- may be used only on labels for meat or poultry products if the appropriate documentation is provided by the producer to the Agency demonstrating that the animals were raised without antibiotics.
No Hormones Added or No Hormones Administered – regulated by the U.S.D.A.-
Hormones are not allowed in raising hogs or poultry. For beef, the term no hormones administered may be approved for use on the label of beef products if appropriate documentation is provided to the U.S.D.A by the producer showing no hormones have been used in raising the animals.
What about claims like healthy, natural, and organic? Stay tuned to part 2 to find out!
- Contribution by Amanda Vetter, Dietetic Intern
Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. (n.d.). "Natural" on Food Labeling. Retrieved April 15, 2017, from https://www.fda.gov/Food/GuidanceRegulation/GuidanceDocumentsRegulatoryInformation/LabelingNutrition/ucm456090.htm
Duyff, R. (2012). Chapter 12 Savy Shopping. In American Dietetic Association Complete Food and Nutrition Guide (4th ed., pp. 274-314). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Labeling & Nutrition - Structure/Function Claims. (n.d.). Retrieved April 15, 2017, from
Labeling & Nutrition - Label Claims for Conventional Foods and Dietary Supplements. (n.d.). Retrieved April 15, 2017, from https://www.fda.gov/Food/IngredientsPackagingLabeling/LabelingNutrition/ucm111447.htm
Labeling & Nutrition - Guidance for Industry: A Food Labeling Guide (11. Appendix C: Health Claims). (n.d.). Retrieved April 15, 2017, from https://www.fda.gov/Food/GuidanceRegulation/GuidanceDocumentsRegulatoryInformation/LabelingNutrition/ucm064919.htm
Labeling Organic Products. (n.d.). Retrieved April 15, 2017, from https://www.ams.usda.gov/sites/default/files/media/Labeling%20Organic%20Products%20Fact%20Sheet.pdf
Organic Labeling Standards. (n.d.). Retrieved April 15, 2017, from https://www.ams.usda.gov/grades-standards/organic-labeling-standards
Rizzo, N. (2017, January). Decoding Food Label Claims. Food and Nutrition , 22-24.
What ingredients can be utilized in the 5% of non-organic ingredients allowed in a processed product labeled as “organic”? (n.d.). Retrieved April 15, 2017, from https://www.ams.usda.gov/sites/default/files/media/3%20Nonorganic%20Ingredients%20-%205%25%20Rule%20FINAL%20RGK%20V2.pdf