Are Food Label Claims Regulated?

Food Label Claims

"Low fat." " High fiber."  "Whole grain." " Promotes heart health."

When you enter the grocery store, do you wonder if the Food and Drug Administration regulates these claims on food labels? Yes, however, some regulations have not been updated since 1938, including requirements regarding listing ingredients on processed foods. However, the Government Accountability Office dinged the FDA for poor oversight that fails to prevent false and misleading labels. Moreover, the FDA does not regulate health claims on labels such as "helping maintain a healthy heart" and "supports immunity."

Recently, the FDA sent letters to 17 food manufacturers citing violations including:

  1. Claims about nutrients for children younger than 2 that can only be claimed for adults.
  2. Labels that mislead consumers to believe a juice product comes from single juice rather than a blend of juices.
  3. Claims that a food item will "treat or mitigate" a disease.

Understanding some of the common misleading claims on food labels will help you make the right choices on your evolving quest for a healthier diet:

  • Natural: food labeled as "natural" may not contain artificial or synthetic ingredients; however, it may contain genetically modified ingredients, pesticides or be highly processed.
  • Healthy: To claim a food item is "healthy" it must meet minimum levels of vitamins and minerals, plus meet limits on fat, cholesterol, saturated fat and sodium.
  • 0 grams of  trans fats: Food makers may make that claim if a serving has 0.5 grams or less of trans fats. Thus, if you consume more than one serving size as listed on the label, you may actually ingest 1 gram or more.
  • Calorie counts: The FDA permits a 20 percent margin of error on calories per serving. That 600 calorie meal could really add up to 720 calories.
  • Whole grain: The FDA does not require a minimum percentage of whole grains in a food product in order for the maker to make that claim. Refined flour may still be the predominant ingredient.
  • "Made with real fruit" and images: A package may claim "made with real fruit" along with attractive photos of delectable fruit, yet may use only fruit concentrate.

While it may be time consuming at first, reading the label will help you understand the food item better, and avoid those products that make misleading claims when in fact they are primarily refined, highly processed, full of artificial flavors and colors, or mostly sugar.


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