The science of health claims
Updated: Dec 19, 2019
Stacey Lockyer, British Nutrition Foundation
We know that health claims are regulated by the EU, but how reliable is the scientific evidence behind each one?
All approved health claims in the EU have been assessed by experts and evidence from studies carried out in humans demonstrating the relationship between the consumption of the food/food component and the claimed health effect is essential to get a claim approved. There may also be some evidence from studies carried out in animals or on cells in a test tube, but this is not considered to be sufficient on its own because we can't be certain that the same effect would be seen in humans. This means that if the health effect has only been demonstrated in mice, for example, the claim won't be approved.
Rules are also put in place so that companies can't use health claims in relation to products that only contain very small quantities of the particular food component that has the effect. Each claim is accompanied by conditions of use that state how much of the component in question the product must contain to make the claim.
For example, for claims relating to vitamins and minerals, the product needs to contain a minimum of at least 15% of the recommended daily allowance for the micronutrient in question per 100g, 100ml or per pack (if only one serving) in order to use the claim. This means a product must contain at least 120mg of calcium per 100g, 100ml or per pack in order for an approved calcium-related claim is to be used (and all other conditions of use must also be met).
Approved claims for calcium include:
Calcium contributes to normal blood clotting
Calcium contributes to normal muscle function
Calcium contributes to the normal function of digestive enzymes
Calcium is needed for the maintenance of normal bones
Calcium is needed for the maintenance of normal teeth
So the above claims could be used in relation to half-fat cheddar cheese for example (which contains 252mg of calcium per 30g portion), but not in relation to potato crisps which only contain 12mg of calcium per 25g portion.
So when you see a claim about calcium or anything else on your food packaging in the UK, you can be assured that there is a sound scientific basis for thinking it's true!