Make the Healthy Choice: The Difference between Nutrient Claims and Health Claims
- Written by Lynne Lafave & Samira Ali
When grocery shopping, you may notice labels with claims such as added calcium or reduced sodium. But it can be confusing or overwhelming to use this information to choose the healthiest alternative. The first step is understanding the difference between nutrient content claims and health claims that can appear on packaging.
Both of these claims can be used to highlight benefits but there is a key difference between the two. According to Health Canada, a nutrient content claim describes the amount of a given nutrient in a food, whereas a health claim is a statement about the impact the food can have on a person’s health when consumed within a healthy diet.1
Keep reading for a further breakdown of the differences between nutrient content and health claims!
Nutrient content claims can be beneficial when choosing between foods or looking for. A nutrient content claim can help you choose foods that contain a nutrient you may want more of. For example, “a good source of iron” indicates there is at least 15% of the recommended daily value (DV) of iron per serving on the food label. When reading nutrition fact labels, look for these phrases:2
- “Source of…” The food provides a significant amount of the nutrient.
- “Good source of…” – the food contains at least 15% of the recommended daily intake of vitamins and minerals.
- “Very high or excellent source of…” – The food provides a very large amount of the nutrient.
Food labels also report information about the percent daily value (DV), but what do these numbers mean?
The % DV is found on the right-hand side of a nutrition facts table. It is a guide to help you make informed food choices. It shows you if the serving size has a little or a lot of a nutrient:3
- 5% or less DV ⇒ there is a small amount of that particular nutrient present.
- 15% or more DV ⇒ there is a lot of that particular nutrient present.
Follow the link to learn more about nutrient content claims.
Health claims are aimed to help you make healthy food choices that reduce the risk of chronic diseases. For example, a company may claim that a healthy diet containing foods high in potassium and low in sodium may reduce the risk of high blood pressure (a risk factor for stroke and heart disease).1 You should be aware that health claims are optional and tend to only highlight a few ingredients, so it is important to read the full nutrition facts label to better understand what you are eating. Follow the link to learn more about health claims.
Overall, What to Look For
Food manufacturers must comply with the Health Canada regulations to ensure transparency with consumers. Therefore, any claims made must follow certain guidelines and be accurate, but they may not be highlighting the overall nutrition quality of the product. With this in mind, it is recommended to read the nutrition facts label as well to assess if the product is right for you.
Watch the video to learn more about nutrition facts labels.
While grocery shopping - variety and nutritional value are key! Try to purchase and eat a wide variety of nutrient-rich foods, this includes incorporating many different fruits and vegetables, whole grain, and protein foods.4 When purchasing packaged items be sure to read the nutrition facts label and choose items that are lower in sugars and saturated fats. To avoid highly processed foods, Canada’s Food Guide recommends preparing foods with healthy ingredients and choosing the healthier menu options when you can!
- Government of Canada. (2012). Nutrition claims. Government of Canada. https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/understanding-food-labels/nutrition-claims.html
- Government of Canada. (2012b). Nutrient content claims: what they mean. Government of Canada.https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/understanding-food-labels/nutrient-content-claims-what-they-mean.html
- Government of Canada. (2019). Percent daily value. Government of Canada. https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/understanding-food-labels/percent-daily-value.html
- Government of Canada. (2019). Calories. Government of Canada. https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/understanding-food-labels/calories.html