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The FDA allows health claims to be made on foods, but the assertion does have to meet certain criteria.
The claims allowed fall into ten different categories based on a relationship between a certain nutrient or food and a risk of a particular disease or health related condition. So a food package can, for instance, say that by being low in saturated fat the food may reduce the risk of heart disease.
As with most governmental regulations, the verbiage is designed to never quite allow for a definitive statement. The example given by the FDA for an "appropriate claim" is: "While many factors affect heart disease, diets low in saturated fat and cholesterol may reduce the risk of this disease."
There are a number of ways that the claims are allowed to be made. A food producer can cite the reference of another party such as a scientist or the National Cancer Institute. The assertions can be made through "statements, symbols (such as a heart), and vignettes or descriptions)." However the claim is presented, it cannot state how much the food might lower your risk of a particular disease. The claims can only use the words "might" or "may" when referring to the relationship between the food and the disease or condition that it "might" help. As with the example above, inclusion of the statement that "other factors may play a role in that disease" is mandated.
To claim a that a food has enough calcium to help with osteoporosis a food has to contain 20 percent or more of the Daily Value for calcium per serving (this means 200 milligrams). The food also has to have at least as much or more phosphorus.
To state that a food has a cancer benefit because it is low in fat it must meet the same criteria for "low-fat." If the food is fish or game meats it must be "extra lean."
This claim can be made when a food meets the definitions for the nutrient content claim "low saturated fat," "low-cholesterol," and "low-fat."
If the product is fish or game meats, it must be "extra lean."
Either way, the claim may state that there is a link between a reduced risk of heart disease and lower blood cholesterol levels with diets that are in lower saturated fat and cholesterol intake.
To use the claim of a link between eating grains, fruits or vegetables and a reduction in the risk of cancer a food must be or must contain a grain product, fruit or vegetable. It must also meet the criteria for a "low-fat" food.
The food may not be fortified. It must also be a "good source" of dietary fiber.
For a food to make a claim that its fiber content may lower the risk of heart disease it must be or must contain fruits, vegetables or some sort of grain. The product must also must meet the requirement for "low saturated fat," "low-cholesterol," and "low-fat."
In addition the food has to have at least 0.6 grams of soluble fiber per serving (this has to be natural fiber and not fortified).
This one is simple. To make the assertion that the food may have a benefit for people with high blood pressure the food must meet the requirement for a "low-sodium" food.
This claim is based on the relationship between a diet low in fat and high in fruits and vegetables rich in vitamins A and C and dietary fiber and a reduction in the risk of cancer.
When a fruit or vegetable meets the requirements for "low-fat" and (without fortification) for a "good source" of either dietary fiber vitamin A or vitamin C the claim can be made.
This claim is allowed on both supplements that contain sufficient folate (folic acid) as well as on foods that are good sources of folate.
To make a claim that a products like candy or gum can help prevent cavities by being sugar free it must contain one of the following sugars: xylitol, sorbitol, mannitol, maltitol, isomalt, lactitol, hydrogenated starch hydrolysates, hydrogenated glucose syrups, or any combination. When the food does contains a carbohydrate like sugar it cannot lower the pH of plaque in the mouth below 5.7.
There must be also be a statement that that frequent between-meal consumption of foods "high in sugars and starches promotes tooth decay."
This label must include a statement that fiber should be part of a diet that is low in saturated fat and cholesterol.