Health Claim Definitions
In addition to the nutrition facts and ingredient information found on packaged foods, some foods may also be labeled with health-related claims. There are three main categories of claims defined by and regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA):
#1- Health claims describe a relationship between a food or food component and the risk of a health related condition. For example, a health claim may describe the relationship between calcium and osteoporosis: “Adequate calcium throughout life, as part of a well-balanced diet, may reduce the risk of osteoporosis.”
There are a total of 12 health claims approved by the FDA. A complete listing of health claims approved for food labels is available here:
#2- Nutrient content claims describe a food and the level of a particular nutrient in that food. “Low fat,” and “High fiber” are both examples of nutrient content claims. For a table showing nutrient content claims and their meanings, view our handout ‘Nutrient Claims on Food Labels.‘
“Health”” is an implied nutrient content claim given to foods that have defined, “healthy” levels of fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, sodium, and beneficial nutrients. Keep in mind that this does not take into account whether a food is highly processed or has added sugar or not.
#3- Structure/function claims describe the role a nutrient plays in a physiological structure or function. For example, “Calcium helps to builds strong bones”, or “Fiber keeps us regular.”
Putting Food Label Health Claims to Use
Below are three scenarios, in which health claims may be useful:
- If you, a family member, or a friend are at risk for a nutrition related disease or condition, health claims can be helpful. For example, if you are at risk for high blood pressure, you may look for a nutrient content claim that states a food is “low sodium” and a health claim that states “Diets low in sodium may reduce the risk of high blood pressure, a disease associ-ated with many factors.”
- If you have been advised to eat more or less of a certain nutrient, look for nutrient content claims to select the best option. For example, if your physician recommends that you consume more fiber, you can look for foods with claims that state “a good source of fiber” or “high in fiber.”
- If you are interested in eating a healthy diet to achieve a particular outcome or because you may be at risk and want to prevent damage, use structure function claims to select the best product. For example, if you are at risk for osteoporosis, you may look for claims such as “calcium helps to build strong bones.”
Regardless of your situation, understanding these claims can help you better decide on products and choose between products.
Did You Know?
Currently, the FDA considers “natural” to mean that nothing artificial or synthetic (including color additives regardless of source) has been added to a food that would not normally be expected to be in that food.
However, this does not address food production methods, such as the use of pesticides, or food processing or manufacturing methods, such as pasteurization or irradiation.
Most people can get all the nutrition they need from eating a well-balanced diet of mostly whole foods such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables, meats, legumes, and dairy.