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Are Health Claims Misleading You?

by ADMIN on AUGUST 31, 2011

The average grocery store carries about 40,000 products. That’s a lot of food. And a lot of confusion.

Have you ever chosen a food because the packaging had these qualifiers: “Whole Grain” or “Supports your child’s immunity” or “Promotes Heart Health.” If you have, you’re not alone.

In a study completed by the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale University, parents inferred that cereals containing health claims were more nutritious overall and may promote the health of their children. For example, the ‘whole grain’ claim on Lucky Charms and the ‘calcium and vitamin D’ claim on Cinnamon Toast Crunch made one – quarter of parents believe that these cereals were healthier than other children’s cereals.

Three-quarters of parents believed that the ‘immunity’ claim on Cocoa Krispies meant that eating this cereal would help keep their kids from getting sick.

But the reality is that these cereals are still high in sugar and low in fiber and nutrients – not necessarily the best choice. Even though a cereal may say it’s “whole grain”, it may only have 1 gram of fiber per serving!

How to Choose the Right Foods

There are Four types of claims to watch out for:

  • Health Claims. These are the “Real Deal” and are based on ‘significant scientific agreement’. These claims connect a nutrient with a disease or health problem.

Example: “Three grams of soluble fiber from oatmeal daily in a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol may reduce the risk of heart disease.”

These claims are not, however, allowed to claim to diagnose, treat, or cure a disease.

  • Qualified Health Claims. A step down from Health Claims, these are based on a less scientific proof. In other words, the link between the nutrient and disease is weaker.

Example: “Supportive but not conclusive evidence shows that eating 1.5 ounces of walnuts a day, as part of a low cholesterol and low saturated fat diet and not resulting in increased caloric intake, may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease.”

As you can see, the company can only use a Qualified Health Claim if they admit that the science is not strong.

  • Structure – Function Claims. These are sneaky claims that act like health claims without stating the link between the nutrient and the disease. And without science to back it up!

Example: A high fiber product “Keeps your bowels moving” is basically implying that the product treats constipation without stating it outright because there’s no proof for that product. Or a high calcium product that “builds strong bones” without explicitly claiming to prevent osteoporosis.

Structure-Function claims are the ones to watch out for since there is no science to back them up. They’re just another marketing ploy to help the company make money … and make you spend more!

So next time your in the grocery store, look past the claims on the package and find out for yourself if that food is good for you or your family.

Check out the Nutrition Facts Panel and Ingredient List – it’s here that you’ll discover whether the product is has a lot of added sugar, is high in saturated fat, trans fat, or calories. Or better, whether it’s a great source of fiber, protein, or unsaturated fats.

Don’t always believe the hype that’s written on the front of the package or singled out in ads – these statements are typically there simply to make you buy more. Those sneaky food manufacturers.

Be your own Nutrition Sleuth!


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