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Words of Wellness-The Truth About Food Claims - April 17, 2013

By: Kate Adams

Dietitian at On With Life

Determining whether a health claim is clever marketing or a true benefit is next to impossible these days. It’s always important to be skeptical unless there is sound scientific evidence supporting a claim. The government does regulate certain claims and labels, but many are just made up by different food companies. As I’ve said before if it sounds too good to be true it likely is. A product in the news (and court room) recently for its claims: Cherry Antioxidant 7UP.

“Fortified with Omega-3s” – While we could all use more of these healthy fats in our diets, when something is fortified with them it is usually in the form of α-linoleic fatty acids which are not as readily absorbed by our bodies. The best way to reach the recommended 250mg a day is through foods that naturally contain Omega-3s: fish, chia seeds, or a fish oil supplement.

“100% Vitamin C” – If you eat at least a serving or 2 of fruits or vegetables each day than you are likely getting enough Vitamin C. One orange contains 116% of the recommendation and ½ cup of chopped red bell peppers contains 158%.

“Made with Whole Grains” – It is great to see more companies including whole grains in their products, but unless the first ingredient is whole wheat flour or whole grain flour it’s not any better for you. Also, unbleached wheat flour is also a name for white flour.

“With Added Fiber” – The fiber that is added to products that typically don’t contain any is usually in the form of inulin or chicory root. These ingredients may help you stay regular in the bathroom but they are not the heart-healthy soluble fiber that we could all use more of. Sources of soluble fiber include oatmeal, beans, nuts and seeds.

“Immunity-Boosting” – Products with this claim may be fortified with antioxidants A, C and E. However there is no research proving that these antioxidants can prevent cancer or even the common cold.

“Made with or From Real Fruit” – fruit snacks, cereals, yogurt, this list goes on and on of products with the claim. The truth is that there are more often than not trivial amounts of actual fruit. When there is, the bits are likely mixed with sugar and oil. Stick to a side of whole fruits with your waffles!

So which can you trust? The FDA has strict requirements for certain food label terms. Below they are listed along with their definition:

  • Low calorie: 40 calories or less per serving

  • Low cholesterol: 20 mg or less and 2 grams or less of saturated fat per serving
  • Reduced: At least 25 percent less of the specified nutrient or calories than the usual product
  • Good source of: Provides at least 10 to 19 percent of the Daily Value of a particular vitamin or nutrient per serving
  • Calorie free: Less than five calories per serving
  • Fat free/sugar free: Less than ½ gram of fat or sugar per serving
  • Low sodium: 140 mg or less of sodium per serving
  • High in: Provides 20 percent or more of the Daily Value of a specified nutrient per serving
  • High fiber: Five or more grams of fiber per serving

The FDA also sets standards for claims related to foods being high in certain nutrients. These include: calcium and osteoporosis, high blood pressure and sodium as well as heart disease and high fat foods.

Always read labels and be a smart shopper!