by Marion Nestle
Aug 8 2016

Food products with health claims: only marginally better (no surprise)

A recent study did something useful.  It examined the nutritional quality of more than 2000 foods with or without health-related claims.

As compared with food products without health claims, foods with health claims had, on average, per serving:

  • 29 fewer calories
  • 3 grams less sugar
  • 2 grams less saturated fat
  • 842 mg less sodium
  • 0.8 grams more fiber

The authors conclude:

Foods carrying health-related claims have marginally better nutrition profiles than those that do not carry claims…It is unclear whether these relatively small differences have significant impacts on health.

Unclear?  Most of these are barely measurable.  Only the sodium reduction might help.

This study confirms the following:

  • Health claims on food packages are not about health; they are about marketing.
  • Just because a food product is slightly better for you does not necessarily mean that it is a good choice.
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  • Eidena Joseph

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  • KentComments

    The abstract says that those numbers are per 100 g. 842 mg less sodium, when the recommended amount is not more than 2300 mg daily for all and 1500 mg for many, and when average intake in the US is 3400 mg, is really quite substantial. And 2 g saturated fat is also significant: average intakes are only about 11-13 grams a day. Even the Calorie reduction could be significant, depending on what the actual Calorie count per 100 g of the regular foods was: that would shave 10% off of a 100 g serving of french fries, for instance.

  • Cathy Richards

    I agree with KentComments especially re: the 2 g sat’d fat. Anything that makes room for iron/zinc rich meats, calcium/magnesium rich milk, nuts, seeds, fruit/veg etc, is great. While health claims are certainly over the top it does give me an idea of which packages to pick up to compare nutrition labels with.

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  • Gesa

    We did a similar study with ready to eat cereals, including products targeting children. In our study, health-related on-pack information was not consistently related to the nutrient profiles. Near health claims, nor nutrition claims predicted a better nutrient profile. Clean labelling, organic labelling and whole grain labelling did (whole grain claims are not registered as health claim in the EU).
    http://bmcpublichealth.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1471-2458-14-1178

  • Joe

    The health claims can be directly impacted by a requirement for the new version of the food label. When these foods make their outrageous claims you can quickly confirm the ingredients on this standardized label seen here: nutrition labels which clearly shows the information by making changes such as enlarging the Serving Size and Calories font, and adding the new sugars in the product and clearly showing the grams in bolder view so there is no hiding the facts about the product.

    When in the store now, you can easily pick up 2 products and compare them to see if the claim is legitimate. Hopefully this will stop a lot of these crazy claims and put all food products on an even comparison with each other.. healthy eating all!