Nutrition Meets Food Science
Food packages 1 Nutrition Meets food science

Now you may believe claims on food packages

For quite some time consumers have had to put up with miraculous cooking oils claiming to “control diabetes and sugar levels in the blood,” or ‘lite” wafers, on which you may gorge endlessly or sugarless sweets. Some may be truthful, some untruthful, some misleading and a few absurd. Of the several agencies controlling false and misleading advertisements, the Advertising Standards Council of India, better known as ASCI is perhaps the most popular and effective. However, with the FSSAI’s regulation on Advertising and Claims, food business operators and advertising agencies will have to somewhat curb their exuberance and exaggeration. Advertisers need to provide compelling short messages to get consumer attention and influence buying behaviors; this being true, the new regulations will provide guidance to avoid crossing the line.

So when a label shouts out “low fat” – the food must not contain more than 3g of fat in 100g solids (e.g. biscuits) or 1.5g in liquid product (e.g. milkshake).  “High fiber” bread should provide you with more than 6g per 100g consumed. These are called Nutrient Content Claims (NCC) which essentially require the claims to fulfill a numerical condition when using the terms as, “zero”, “low”, “high”, “lite”, “reduced”, “more” etc. on food labels.  There are also Nutrient Comparative Claims where nutrient levels – energy (calories), protein, fat or carbohydrates (sugar, fiber) – are compared subject to fixed criteria of being at least 25% less or more (not more or less, but absolute difference). Such claims provide consumers with a choice of arranging diets, from an array of products claiming low (fat, salt, sugar) and high (protein, fiber, minerals and vitamins). Both these claim types are called Nutrition Claims.

Food packages 1 Nutrition Meets food science

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For consumers seeking out foods that help reduce the risk of non-communicable diseases such as coronary heart disease (lowering cholesterol), diabetes (lowering sugar surge), salt (lowering hypertension), there are health claims (three types).

Table I: Recommended Daily Allowance
Nutrient RDA Source
Calcium 600 mg 90 mg
Zinc 12 mg 1.8 mg
Protein 60g 9g
Vitamin D 10μg 1.5μg
Vitamin C 40 mg 6 mg

These are nutrition function claims, other function claims and disease risk reduction claims (DRR). For a simpler consumer understanding these claim types can be called “functional” claims (i.e. non-disease related) and DRR, which are disease, related. Functional claims tell you about the role of a ‘nutrient’ (for which an RDA is provided by the Indian Council of Medical Research – ICMR; or Codex where the levels are not provided by ICMR). Examples of functional claims are; ‘calcium helps build bones” or “ zinc supports a healthy immune system”. For foods to carry this claim they must provide the minimum amount of the claimed nutrient “source” (at least 15% of the RDA) Table I. Several nutrients like calcium and Vitamin D may provide the same functional role in building strong bones so that they may be taken together. This way the new claims regulation helps young and senior consumers select products to take care of their dietary concerns.

For those who have more compelling dietary needs, especially after age 30-40 years are foods with diseased risk reduction claims. To make such a claim the food must contain the ingredient or nutrient at the effective amount in a serving and the number of servings per day that will provide the benefit. For example, it is well proven that beta-glucan (a component of oat) has relationship with cholesterol lowering effect at 3g per day; the food label will inform you the amount available per serving (e.g. 1g beta-glucan) and since you need another 2g you can choose more servings of the same food or another to obtain the effective per day level. Other food components are phytosterols, psyllium husk, soy protein that provide health benefits.

Now that regulations specify clear pre-conditions before placing foods with label claims on the market, a review of how these are treated in advertisement is required. Often and legitimately so, company and media executives strive towards strong and graphic messaging, which may be construed as ‘misleading’ to the consumer. But whose point of view makes it so; a policy review of how food advertisements are evaluated is required. Certain differences are to be recognized when scrutinizing label claims and advertisement.  Both provide information to the consumer but both cannot have similar deliveries; they represent different facets.

There are 3 steps in laddering up to healthy lifestyles. In the first step the food regulator provides a decision making mechanism on what claims can be made based on quality of the scientific evidence and necessary pre-conditions. The food industry innovates through thousands of products providing, “health promoting nutrients and components”. Thereafter consumers exercise their choice in composing diets with – say – “low fat, sugar and salt” foods or “ cholesterol lowering” components. Expectedly one would think if consumers have a wide selection of “healthy” foods, why would they select those which aren’t. Consumer information does not necessarily lead lifestyle modification. Behavior modification requires something more.  Advertisements are often seen to have behaviour promoting influences (are they always bad?); it is still the best way of reaching out to larger audiences for a healthy lifestyle; if done well. Claims and advertisements may want to track into the mainstream of public life, safety and health. A good example is FSSAI’s eat right messaging “ Aaj se Thoda Kam”.

Food packages 2 Nutrition Meets food science

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Joseph Lewis

A Food Regulatory Consultant,
PhD (Tech) at UDCT, Mumbai


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