Nutrition and health claims
We’ve looked at how to find reliable sources of information about food and nutrition in the media, but there’s another form of communication that has a strong influence on buying decisions - the food labels themselves, which can contain persuasive nutrition and health claims.
EU Regulation (EC) No 1924/2006 (updated in (EU) No 1047/2012) ensures that claims made or implied on food labels or in related advertising are clear, scientifically accurate, evidence based and do not mislead consumers.
This regulation is the legal framework used by food business operators when they want to highlight the particular beneficial effects of their products in relation to health and nutrition. Foods bearing claims that could mislead consumers are prohibited on the EU market. This not only protects consumers, but also promotes innovation and ensures fair competition. The rules ensure the free circulation of foods bearing claims, as any food company may use the same claims on its products anywhere in the European Union.
The rules apply to both nutrition claims (such as ‘low fat’, ‘high fibre’) and to health claims (such as ‘Vitamin D is needed for the normal growth and development of bone in children’).
These include any claim which states, suggests or implies that a food has particular beneficial nutritional properties due to:
the energy (calorific value) it:
b. provides at a reduced or increased rate or
c. does not provide
the nutrients or other substances it:
b. contains in reduced or increased proportions or
c. does not contain.
Here are some examples of nutrition claims along with the details of what they mean:
LOW ENERGY. A claim that a food is low in energy (and any claim likely to have the same meaning for the consumer) may only be made where the product does not contain more than 40 kcal (170 kJ)/100 g for solids, or more than 20 kcal (80 kJ)/100 ml for liquids. For table-top sweeteners the limit of 4 kcal (17 kJ)/portion, with equivalent sweetening properties to 6 g of sucrose (approximately 1 teaspoon of sucrose), applies.
ENERGY-REDUCED. A claim that a food is energy-reduced (and any claim likely to have the same meaning for the consumer) may only be made where the energy value is reduced by at least 30%, with an indication of the characteristic(s) which make(s) the food reduced in its total energy value.
LOW FAT. A claim that a food is low in fat (and any claim likely to have the same meaning for the consumer) may only be made where the product contains no more than 3 g of fat per 100 g for solids or 1.5 g of fat per 100 ml for liquids (1.8 g of fat per 100 ml for semi-skimmed milk).
FAT-FREE. A claim that a food is fat-free (and any claim likely to have the same meaning for the consumer) may only be made where the product contains no more than 0.5 g of fat per 100 g or 100 ml. Claims expressed as ‘X % fat-free’ are prohibited.
Similar rules apply for other claims such as ‘low sugar’, ‘low salt’ and ‘high fibre’ and even the use of words like ‘light’ or ‘lite’. All such claims and their meanings are listed here
A health claim is any statement about a relationship between food and health. The European Commission only authorises health claims if they are based on sound scientific evidence and are easy to understand by consumers. The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has responsibility for evaluating the scientific evidence for the claimed effects. If you’d like to find out more, the article Two case studies on regulating health claims from the course, How is my food made? goes into more detail. This video by EFSA (the European Food Safety Authority) also explains this regulation and the criteria for considering a health claim.
There are various types of health claims:
Function Health Claims
These make claims relating to the growth, development and functions of the body, or psychological and behavioural functions, or slimming or weight-control.
Risk Reduction Claims
These claim to reduce a risk factor in the development of a disease. For example: ‘Plant stanol esters have been shown to reduce blood cholesterol. Blood cholesterol is a risk factor in the development of coronary heart disease.’
Claims referring to children’s development
For example: ‘Vitamin D is needed for the normal growth and development of bone in children
There’s further detail about health claims here and all authorised health claims, the conditions for their use and the EFSA opinion on the scientific substantiation for the claims are publicly available in the EU Register on nutrition and health claims.
Does the detail of this aspect of EU regulations surprise you? Does it make the claims you see on the food products you buy seem more (or less) trustworthy?
If you’re interested in knowing more about the claims made on food packaging then join another EIT-Food online course Understanding Food Labels. You’ll learn how to interpret food labels so you can make informed choices and buy food that supports your health and wellbeing.
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