A lot of foods have confusing labels pasted all over the front of them. Some food labels boast a certain food is low-calorie, heart healthy or a good source of fiber while others may brag that calcium is important to bone health. Excluding for a moment what’s listed on the back in terms of ingredients, nutrients etc., the front of many grocery store-bought packages boast nutrient content claims, health claims and structure/function (S/F) claims – what do these claims tell us you ask?

A nutrient content claim is some kind of labeling on a food product that describes either in a direct or implied manner how much nutrient content is in a food; a commonly seen example is the use of the term “low fat.”

In contrast, a health claim is a claim on the food or dietary supplement label that makes a direct or implied correlation between use of that food or supplement and a disease or health condition. Such labels could include symbols, or illustrations or recommendations from a third-party. So when you read a big banner on the front of a Cheerios box that says “you can lower your cholesterol 4% in 6 weeks” you are perusing a health claim.

Structure/function (S/F) claims also appear – on foods and dietary supplements; they differ in that they point to the way that the food or supplement (or its ingredients) affects a particular function of the body without pointing to any particular disease. According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), “S/F claims must be truthful and not misleading and are not pre-reviewed or authorized by FDA. [21 U.S.C. 343(r)(6); 21 CFR 101.93].” An example that the FDA gives is “calcium builds strong bones.”

In the coming weeks and months I will be blogging a bit more specifically about what different labels mean, so you can tune in as time goes by… You can also spend hours reading through the FDA Website for more information on how all these claims are regulated: http://www.fda.gov/Food/GuidanceComplianceRegulatoryInformation/GuidanceDocuments/FoodLabelingNutrition/FoodLabelingGuide/ucm064908.htm#health