Getting Your Facts Straight
Sylvia Emberger, RD, LDN
Corporate Nutritionist, Ahold USA
Did you know that any claims you make about a food in advertising need to be consistent with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulations for labeling on packages? When writing or speaking about foods, it’s important to have at least a basic fluency in the language of claims so that you can better inform customers and have confidence when speaking with vendors. Start by reviewing the FDA’s Food Labeling Guide which provides a summary of the regulations governing the labeling of food products.
RACC your brain. You know that a food is a “good source” or “excellent source” of nutrients if it provides 10% or 20% of the Daily Value, respectively. But on what do you base your serving size: a half cup? an exchange? Reference Amounts Customarily Consumed (RACC) are the serving sizes established by the FDA on which you need to base most claims. Use the Nutrition Facts or check the USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference for nutrient amounts and do the math to determine the %DV per RACC. The food “contains”, “provides” or is a “source” of that nutrient only if it meets at least 10% of the Daily Value per RACC. For example, blueberries are not a source of iron at 2%DV per RACC.
Fruit is not low in calories! The RACC for most fruits is 140g and you’d be hard-pressed to find any fruit that has less than 40 calories per RACC! For customers following a weight loss plan or counting carbohydrates, calories and carbs from fruit can add up quickly.
Lean, low fat, low sodium. Pay attention to the difference between “lean” and “% lean”. Be aware that there are disqualifying levels for fat, saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium when making claims about other nutrients in a food.
High in calories, fat, cholesterol, sodium or sugar? All but sugar have definitions for “low” but the criteria for a “high” amount of these nutrients are not defined.
Research results or health claims? Become familiar with the list of approved claims backed by significant scientific agreement and know the foods or nutrients which may reduce the risk of certain diseases. Learn how to use the word “healthy” correctly when describing foods.
Antioxidants. Don’t confuse the term “antioxidant” with “phytochemicals” or “superfoods”. In order to make a claim about an antioxidant nutrient in a food, there needs to be an established RDI for the nutrient, the nutrient must have existing scientific evidence of antioxidant activity and the level of the nutrient must meet the definition for “good source”.
Does the recipe really provide 243.1 calories? If you’re posting recipes with Nutrition Facts, learn the FDA rounding rules. Since there is variability in ingredients, measuring methods and tools, rounding the calories and other nutrients will better reflect the composition of the finished product.
Don’t rely on “the internet” for your information. Perform due diligence before making any nutrient content or health claims so that the statements you make are accurate and have authoritative backing behind them.