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Health claims on food products that influence consumer’s choices
Tuesday, 23 February, 2021, 12 : 00 PM [IST]
Professor Jagadish Pai
When there are many companies and brands for the same or similar products, each one will try to give a reason or advantage for consumer to buy that product. This is usually done by making a claim for the product that shows that the product is better and so people should buy this one.

Claims can be of various kinds. It may be concerning eating qualities of the food such as having better flavour and taste. There are claims made on purity or authenticity of ingredients or process. Claims concerning quantity such as a presence of desirable nutrient such as a vitamin or an undesirable ingredient such low sugar or salt are very commonly used.

Foods are also known to have an impact on health not just through nutrients like proteins, vitamins and minerals but also some substances that are present in them that may be beneficial for health. Consumers have started relating nutritious food with health because of nutrients as well as some healthy ingredients that are present in the food product or if some unhealthy ingredients are less in it. This has encouraged many companies to make claims to that effect.

FSSAI has realised that there is a possibility of consumers getting swayed by many claims some that may not be valid. In order to make consumers aware of good healthy foods with ingredients and nutrients in them affecting their well-being, FSSAI notified a series of regulations. The intention is to make food companies more responsible in communicating through advertisements and through claims on their labels prohibiting certain claims which may be deceptive or may not convey proper meaning.

Conditions of Health Claims
When a health claim is made both the physiological role of the nutrient or substance as well as composition of product with respect to that substance must be considered. When a substance affecting favourably or adversely health is mentioned, the claim must relate to the amount as defined by regulation. For example, when it is claimed to have high in protein or low in sugar, the amounts must be as stipulated by the regulation.

Nutrient function claims can be made on the basis of current scientific knowledge about the health effects of the nutrient. However, disease risk reduction claim can only be made as per the conditions specified by FSSAI.

Calcium and vitamin D are both essential for bone health. They also reduce the risk of osteoporosis. Thus is easier to make a claim of nutrient function claim such as calcium is essential for bone health but to make the disease risk reduction claim adequate amounts will be needed to be present in food.

There are certain disease risk reduction claims have been defined by FSSAI which could be made by the manufacturer but others would need approval of claims by the FSSAI. For this a procedure has been laid down for submission of documents for seeking approval.

One can also make a health benefit claim for a product prepared by the manufacturer. However, this needs substantiation with a well-designed human clinical study under the guidance of established research institution backed by published data.

There are botanicals or nutraceuticals that may provide some health benefits. In order to make claims regarding these to show that the product made using these in it will provide the benefits, one may need a clinical study in which the product will have to be consumed by people being studied and the health benefit will have to be demonstrated.

As such study will require expertise in physiology as well as in statistics so established institutions may have to be involved in such studies to obtain reliable data that need to be submitted to FSSAI for approval of the claims.

Although claims regarding the foods can be made in a manner to indicate that the food or substance in the food may reduce the risk of a disease, however claims cannot be made to indicate that it would treat or cure a disease.

As new opportunities exist many new food products are appearing in the market with many claims. Claims were made earlier also but since there were no clear rules how these would be made some were made without any basis or substantiation. Even a slight reduction of undesirable ingredients or slight addition of nutrient or healthy ingredient would be claimed in exaggerated manner. This is not possible now.

Not only have the guidelines or conditions have been provided for making claims, there are stricter punishments for violations which would prevent irresponsible claims. Also the word and language that will be used as per the directives, will be easier for the consumers to understand and make proper choice for healthier and nutritious products. This would certainly create better confidence in good products.

(The author is executive director, Protein Foods and Nutrition Development Association of India -PFNDAI)
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