Today I’d like to go over some common label claims and dive into what they mean (or don’t mean). All of these I’ve seen on products while grocery shopping. There are so many claims, and they are ever-changing, so this will not be the last post on the topic. If you have questions about something you see in a store or on a package, send me a picture. I’ll research and include it in a later post.
First up is one that’s super common. I found this bottle of BBQ sauce with the words “Sugar-Free” in big letters on the front label. It has the word Stevia on the bottom right, so I initially figured it simply used a sugar replacer.
But take a look at the ingredients list on the back. The tamari soy sauce actually contains sugar, and there is note at the bottom saying it adds a trivial amount of sugar. Well, how much sugar can a “Sugar-Free” product have? (Try saying that 10x fast.)
The term “sugar-free” is a nutrient content claim regulated by the FDA. It means that a product must have less than 0.5g of sugar per serving. Typically, products with this claim don’t have added sugar, but they are allowed to as long as they stay under the 0.5g threshold. If the product contains sugar or an ingredient with sugar, it must have a statement below the ingredient list, just like in the picture above.
This is another one that has grown in popularity. Who doesn’t want all-natural processed food? Just kidding here. As common as the term is, some may find it surprising that it has no formal definition. The FDA has generally considered it to mean no artificial or synthetic additives, including colors. It does not address growing condition, production and processing methods, or nutritional benefits.
Will the FDA at some point create a definition of the term “natural?” They held an open comment period to request information back in 2015. Last year, the FDA was directed to make movement toward creating a definition. Earlier this year, former Commissioner Gottlieb suggested that the agency would be getting to it. He has since resigned, and there has been no more mention of the term from the FDA. Making up 21% of food industry lawsuits, it looks like the courts will be defining “All Natural” for the time being.
That’s all I have for today. Don’t forget, if you have food topics that cause confusion, or any that you’d just like to know more about, send them my way.