Nutrient Content Claim vs. Health Claim: What’s the Difference?

Understanding the difference between nutrient content claims and health claims is key to using them in compliance with the FDA’s strict guidelines.

Understanding the difference between nutrient content claims and health claims is key to using them in compliance with the FDA’s strict guidelines. Image source: Flickr user Foad Hersi.

Experienced food manufacturers know just how much work can go into including a nutrient content claim or health claim on their food product’s label. But for those just starting out in the industry, there’s a lot of confusion about the difference between the two types of claims, not to mention the FDA guidelines for each.

There’s no doubt that including some sort of claim on your product could potentially attract consumers and increase your sales, but before that can happen, you need to understand the different types of claims and what you need in order to use them. Let’s look at the nutrient content vs. health claim conundrum so you can decide which to include on your product and how to do so in compliance with the FDA’s guidelines.

Nutrient Content Claims Defined

Nutrient content claims, which are commonly used on food labels, either refer to the amount of a nutrient in a product or compare the levels of a nutrient in that food to a similar reference food. When referring to the amount of a nutrient in a product, words such as “low,” “free,” and “high” are often used. Examples include “low-calorie,” “high-fiber,” and “fat-free.” Nutrient content claims that compare levels of a nutrient employ words like, “reduced,” “more,” and “light.” Examples include “reduced-sodium,” “more fiber,” and “light” (referring to reduced fat).

Since nutrient content claims reference nutrients with established Daily Values, terms like “healthy” (which refers to the amount of fat, sodium, and cholesterol) and statements that claim a product contains a significant percentage of a nutrient’s Daily Value are also considered nutrient content claims. “One serving contains 40% of the Daily Value for vitamin C” is an example of a percentage nutrient content claim.

In order to use a nutrient content claim like the ones mentioned above, keep in mind that nutrient levels must fall within the nutrient content claim guidelines set by the FDA, and you must provide evidence that backs up the claim. If, for example, you are making a claim about a nutrient that isn’t on the standard nutrition facts panel, like magnesium, you must add its value to the nutrition label.

Two Types of Health Claims: Authorized and Qualified

According to the FDA, health claims refer to the relationship between a specific food product or ingredient and a reduced risk of disease or a health condition. Health claims available for use are either considered “authorized” or “qualified.”

“Authorized” health claims have significant scientific agreement (SSA), meaning there is a consensus in the publically available scientific information on the matter. An example of an authorized health claim would be, “Adequate dietary calcium and vitamin D may reduce the risk of osteoporosis in later life.” Of course, if you are interested in using an “authorized” health claim, I recommend perusing the complete list of the FDA’s authorized health claims to see which ones your product is eligible for.

“Qualified” health claims, on the other hand, don’t have the requirements for SSA but are validated by a significant amount of scientific evidence. When using “qualified” health claims, you must include a disclaimer or qualifier that makes the amount of scientific evidence clear so as not to mislead consumers. An example of a qualified health claim is, “Some scientific evidence supports, but does not prove, that eating X servings of whole grains per day may reduce the risk of Type 2 diabetes.” Again, be sure to familiarize yourself with the list of qualified health claims to ensure you are using them correctly.  

It’s important to note that health claims differ from structure/function claims, as many food manufacturers confuse the two. Whereas health claims refer specifically to how a nutrient or ingredient impacts a disease or health condition, structure/function claims refer to how a nutrient impacts the structure/function of the body. Examples of structure/function claims include, “fiber promotes regularity” or “calcium helps create strong bones.”

Nutrient Content Claim vs Health Claim: Which Should You Use?

Now that you understand the difference between nutrient content claims and health claims, you can decide which one to use on your product. While including health claims can be beneficial, you have to be very careful about making these claims correctly. If the claim is even slightly misleading, food manufacturers can face serious legal action. Based on my experience working with food manufacturers, nutrient content claims are easier to navigate and use, as the FDA guidelines are more straightforward.

Regardless of which type of claim you decide to use on your product label, though, the first step is getting accurate nutrition analysis results. If you use an online nutrition analysis software like LabelCalc to create your nutrition facts panel, all your nutrient levels will be instantly generated (even the involuntary ones), making it easier for you to see what claims you could use. I recommend working with an expert nutrition consultant to make sure you are using the health claims correctly and in compliance with the FDA’s guidelines. After all, it’s always nice to have a little extra support when navigating the complex world of FDA regulations.

LabelCalc is an industry-leading, user-friendly, and affordable online nutrition analysis software created with food manufacturers in mind. To make a nutrition facts panels or to see if you qualify for any nutrient content or health claims, contact us today.

What is LabelCalc?

LabelCalcⓇ is one of FoodCalc LLC’s two nutrition analysis products, created to help meet the needs of the food industry. Based in San Francisco, CA, we are a nationally recognized provider of online nutrition analysis that is fast, accurate, and FDA-compliant.

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