Nutrition Claims on Foods

I read a couple interesting research articles recently related to nutrient claims on foods and whether that correlated to actual changes in the foods. Many of us remember years ago how often the “reduced fat” version of some foods actually had MORE calories due to the added sugars, etc they put in to improve the taste. Generally, companies have corrected that due to pressure from the media and consumers. But it is always good to know if what you are buying for a “health” reason actually means a healthier product.

The first study focused on looking at items labeled with lower sodium nutrient claims. To have such a claim, the product does actually need to be lower in sodium than a counterpart. However, the researchers wanted to see if sugar or fat was added, thereby altering the nutrition. They compared 153 sodium modified foods with 141 regular counterpart foods. The good news is they found that there was no significant difference in calories, carbohydrates, sugar, fat, or saturated fat. This is great news for consumers, as it means we can trust that when we see a lower sodium claim on a package, we can trust that we are actually getting a “healthier” product. Also of note, the researchers noted that often brands have started just making their “regular” item the low sodium version rather than offer two items. This would be a trend worth following.

The next study was less encouraging. It looked at health claims on “fruit drinks” for children. This does NOT include 100% fruit juice products. These are juice cocktails, nectars, and other fruit drinks. The shocking part of the data to me was that over 2,000 fruit drink products were found in data as actually purchased by households with children in the United States. That is A LOT of sugar!! Also upsetting to me, 97% of these products had some sort of nutrition related claim on the packaging – including “natural flavors”, the presence of juice, vitamin C, sugar, and calories. These claims are upsetting to me because they are deceiving to consumers. It doesn’t matter if you add vitamin C or a small percentage of juice, or only natural flavors. This is still sugar water we are feeding our kids!

After reading these, I took a quick look through my pantry for some nutrition related label claims. See how they measured up. I have 4 “adult” products and 3 “kid” products I will quickly review. Some of these I buy based on their healthfulness, others I do not.

Heart Healthy Soup
I buy this tomato soup for my husband. The shock I had hear was what the “Healthy Request” in a heart meant. This claim is for fat and saturated fat. I would have assumed it also included sodium. While the claim doesn’t state that, this product does have almost have as much sodium as the regular version. So overall, a good claim here.

Low Sodium
I generally try to but no salt added tomatoes. This does have the little “Great for You” claim at the bottom. This one is true. There is no sodium in this product versus 180 mg in the standard. Pretty straightforward.

Lower Sodium
I find using base or bouillon cubes more convenient than cans or boxes of broth, personally. I buy this brand from Costco because it is convenient. It’s claim is true, 350 mg of sodium per serving compared to 700 mg in the regular product. However, I compare that to Swanson’s boxed low sodium chicken broth with only 140 mg of sodium. Or Swanson’s unsalted chicken broth with on 35 mg of sodium. I may be rethinking my purchases in future. I hadn’t realized there was such a difference in the “low sodium” versions.

Healthy Fruit Snacks?
Fruit snacks are a pet peeve of mine. They are not in anyway healthy. I don’t care if you put they are made with real fruit and veggie juice or they have no artificial flavors or colors or if you added a ton of vitamin C. They are gummy bears by a different name. So why do I have a Costco sized box? Because my children find them highly motivational for skiing, hiking, biking, and many other activities I want them to do. So there they are with their health claims annoying me each time I look at the box.

Look at the sodium
One of my children is not very fond of sandwiches, so I was trying to find other options for her to pack in her lunches (including a thermos). She ended up hating these, which is why it is still in my pantry. I knew it wasn’t incredibly healthy but an option. The issue I have here is a product touting it’s no artificial colors or preservatives as if it is healthy with then 800 mg of sodium! Good thing the kid didn’t like it, as I think this would get the ax anyway.

Juice Claim
Last, I had to look at a fruit drink. I actually have almost gotten confused and bought the fruit drinks rather than the 100% juice drinks pictured here. It is a hard choice sometimes as the other product is much cheaper. We have these for my kids lunches to rotate with the packaged chocolate milks I also have (which are the same as provided by the school lunch). This packaging doesn’t show it, but this product doesn’t have added sugars or non calorie sweeteners. It still has 20 g of total sugar, because juice is fruit sugar. But within a balanced diet and in moderation, I think this is an ok fit. Would I rather they drank water? Sure. But I choose the battle of making them include a veggie every day in their lunch over that.

Do you look at nutrition claims on products? Do you also check the nutrition label? Have you seen any misleading claims? I’d love to hear your experiences in the comments.

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