With so many choices in the grocery store, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by all the claims and labels on packages of food! Some of them might be enticing, or skirting the truth, or maybe just designed to put a pretty picture in your mind. Regardless, most food labels are designed to get you to buy them – they’re a marketing technique!
Why bother with all of this stuff? Well, the food industry, especially here in the US, is so screwed up. It relies on your ignorance to sell you stuff, and at an increased price. It makes you feel like you’re making healthy choices, when maybe you’re not. The food industry is just that – an industry. A business. They want your money, and don’t necessarily care about educating consumers, because an uneducated consumer will spend more. And yet, they put labels on things to make us feel like we’re getting educated and making good decisions!
So, to be a little more in-the-know will help you to make truly smart decisions. Whether it’s for your health or for your wallet (oftentimes, both!), just knowing some of these things will help you shop smarter.
(By the way, if you’re looking for the Nutrition Facts Label, you can find it here!)
This article is part one of my two-part food labeling mini-series. I’ll update with a link to part two when it’s ready!
Types of Claims on Food Packages
There are a few different kinds of claims that manufacturers can put on their packaging. We’ll take a quick look at what each of these entail.
Nutrient Content Claims
These types of claims describe the level or amount of a specific nutrient within a food product, using words like low, high, free, excellent source, or light. Well, those are great description words, but what is it compared against? Is a donut low in sugar compared to an entire cake? To ensure consistency, the Food and Drug Administration has set parameters that must be met in order to something to be labeled as having “low sodium” or another nutrient content claim. These are often compared against the recommended dietary allowances.
Click here for a full list of nutrient content claims, and which guidelines need to be met! Hey, no joke – print it out and take it shopping with you. Make smarter decisions not based on what the food packages tell you, but how YOU interpret them and compare them against your needs.
Health claims describe the relationship between a food and the reduced risk of a condition or disease.
These claims can be authorized, meaning they have enough scientific literature and research completed to be supported. With an authorized health claim, the evidence for the relationship has been established.
However, these claims can also be “qualified”. This means that, while the relationship between the food and disease hasn’t quite been universally accepted or established yet, there is research up and coming that strongly suggests the link. To ensure that these claims aren’t misleading on the packaging, a disclaimer must be on the package that states the level of evidence to support the claim.
In other words, health claims are either scientifically researched and accepted to be true, or are well on their way.
For example, “Consuming adequate calcium in the diet may reduce the risk of osteoporosis.” would be a health claim because it demonstrates the relationship between a food product (a mineral) and a disease.
Not to be confused with health claims, structure/function claims describe the role of a nutrient or ingredient intended to affect the normal structure or function of the human body. The difference between these two types of claims is that a health claim will describe the relationship with a condition or disease. Structure/function claims are more general, and can be as simple as “heart health”, “regular bowel movements”, or “strong bones.”
For example, “Calcium builds strong bones!”, or “Dietary fiber promotes regular bowel movements!” are structure/function claims.
Now that you can read a nutrition facts label and understand the different types of claims on food packages, you’ll be able to shop smart and make really good decisions. You’ll start noticing these different claims everywhere, and laugh at the choices food packages make in order to sell their products. But it doesn’t end there…I’ll be exploring even more labeling misconceptions soon!
Do you ever look for a certain claim on food packaging? Do you tend to be drawn toward packages that claim “low calorie” or other nutrient content claims? If not, start looking for them! They’re really everywhere…and now you know what they really mean!