The front of a food package is all about one thing – selling the product. Do you know how to read through food label messaging?
Packaged foods use the front of their package to attract consumers by using pictures, bright colors and claims about the product. Food label messaging means reading through the claims, which is not as simple as it might seem. Food label claims have some regulation but not all claims are regulated. The US Food and Drug Administration regulates what information appears on packaged foods. The FDA outlines where things must appear, the font size and what claims can be made about the food.
Food Label Health Claims
The FDA only approves certain claims. Approval depends on if there is significant scientific agreement supporting the claim. Currently there are twelve approved health claims. Claims apply to how certain nutritional components may help prevent either heart disease, certain cancers, neural tube defects or osteoporosis. The nutrients vary, but the connection is that all must have enough significant, scientific agreement that the nutrient might play a role in disease prevention.
In addition to these health claims, there are claims that are referred to as “Qualified Health Claims.” These claims are health claims that DO Not have the body of evidence to support them, but they have some evidence. Qualified Health Claims must get FDA approval to place the claim on the food label and they must post a disclaimer
Finally, there are still unregulated claims, and these are the ones that can make reading labels – a bit confusing! The most common unregulated claims relate to the use of the words “natural” and “multigrain.” The word natural can mean whatever the company decides or whatever you as a consumer believe it to mean, so the best advice is to ignore that word on the label. Multigrain is similar except that it does mean that the food contains more than one grain. What is not clear with multigrain is how much of each grain is present or if the grain is a whole grain.
Best Bet for Checking Labels
When choosing a food, flip the package over, or around, and check the Nutrition Facts panel and the list of ingredients. The Nutrition Facts panel provides the nutrition information per serving of the product. This information gives you a clear picture of the nutritional value of the food.
In addition to the Nutrition Facts panel the list of ingredients shows you the components of the foods. Ingredients are listed with the largest ingredient first, descending to the smallest ingredient. In this post on sodium, I talk about why checking the Nutrition Facts panel, and the list of ingredients, can really help you make the right choices for your family!
To Your Health!
The Nutrition Facts panel is a positive tool for making healthier choices! Next week, I’ll talk more about that part of the label.
About Connie – Connie is a Registered Dietitian with extensive experience communicating in the food and nutrition space. Taking the science of food and nutrition and translating it to simple messages, new products, or exciting menus is her expertise. Making nutrition messages clear, accurate, and engaging aids all consumers.