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Be a label expert Part 3: Nutrition Claims

Ever wondered what “low fat” or “sodium free” and other claims on a label actually mean? Ever seen a label boldly stating a food reduces the risk of heart disease or cancer?

These are actually tightly regulated nutrition claims that food manufacturers must apply for in order to use them on their labels. Health Canada regulates them so tightly because it wants to ensure all claims are accurate, not misleading and consistent from product to product. This allows you to make better choices about what to provide for you and your family. 

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For overall health, include a balance of activities each week from these three categories: flexibility, strength and endurance.

There are 2 types of nutrition claims: nutrient content claims and health claims. Here is a list of common claims you might see on packaging labels.

Common Nutrient Content Claims1

Keywords & Examples

What they mean

Free

an amount so small, health experts consider it nutritionally insignificant

Sodium free

- less than 5 mg sodium*

Cholesterol free

- less than 2 mg cholesterol, and low in saturated fat (includes a restriction on trans fat)*
- not necessarily low in total fat
Low always associated with a very small amount

Low fat

- 3 g or less fat*

Low in saturated fat

- 2 g or less of saturated and trans fat combined*
Reduced at least 25% less of a nutrient compared with its reference product, usually the “original”

Reduced in Calories

- at least 25% less energy than the food to which it is compared
Source always associated with a "significant" amount

Source of fibre

- 2 grams or more fibre*

Good source of calcium

- 165 mg or more of calcium*
Light

allowed only on foods that are either "reduced in fat" or "reduced in energy" (Calories) and requires explanation on the label as to what makes the food "light" (true also if “light” refers to sensory characteristics, such as "light in colour"**)

*per reference amount (specific amount of food listed in Nutrition Facts)

** three exceptions that do not require an explanation are "light maple syrup", "light rum" and "light salted" with respect to fish. Note that a separate provision is made for the claim "lightly salted" which may be used when a food contains at least 50% less added sodium compared with a similar product

Common Health Claims1

To make a health claim about ... the food ...
potassium, sodium and reduced risk of high blood pressure

- must be low in (or free of) sodium
- may also be high in potassium
- must be low in saturated fatty acids
- must be limited in alcohol
- must have more than 40 Calories if the food is not a vegetable or a fruit
- must have a minimum amount of at least one vitamin or mineral

calcium, vitamin D and regular physical activity, and reduced risk of osteoporosis - must be high (or very high) in calcium
- may also be very high in vitamin D
- cannot have more phosphorus than calcium
- must be limited in alcohol
- must have more than 40 Calories if the food is not a vegetable or a fruit
saturated and trans fats and reduced risk of heart disease - must be low in (or free of) saturated fat and trans fat
- must be limited in cholesterol, sodium and alcohol
- must have more than 40 Calories if the food is not a vegetable or a fruit
- must have a minimum amount of at least one vitamin or mineral
- must, if it is a fat or an oil, be a source of omega-3 or omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids
vegetables and fruit and reduced risk of some types of cancers - must be a fresh, frozen, dried or canned fruit or vegetable; fruit juice; vegetable juice
- must be limited in alcohol

 

Looking for More Information?

Visit our article Be a Label Expert (Part 1) - Anatomy of a Label and Be a Label Expert (Part 2) - Nutrition Facts Table.

Dietitians of Canada www.dietitians.ca

Health Canada www.healthcanada.gc.ca/nutritionlabelling

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration http://www.fda.gov/food/guidanceregulation/guidancedocumentsregulatoryinformation/labelingnutrition/ucm2006828.htm

References:

1 Health Canada http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/fn-an/label-etiquet/claims-reclam/index_e.html