Choice is a wonderful thing. Too much of it though can be gosh darn confusing. Case in point - have you ever found yourself sitting at a restaurant reading through an encyclopedic menu, confused, and just wishing there was a little hint or claim beside the best dishes, saying, “Pick me! I’ll make your taste buds happy.” Of course you have. We all have. Well, marketers know this – and this is why health claims on food and supplement labels are so prevalent.
As we consumers have become more and more aware of the relationship between diet and health, there has been an increasing demand for health-enhancing foods and supplements in the marketplace, i.e. foods that help lower cholesterol, promote heart health, help prevent osteoporosis, or promote bowel health and regularity to name a few. It’s trendy for food to be healthy. But can we trust that it really is just because it suggests an association on the box or package?
A health claim is any representation in labeling or advertising that states, suggests, or implies that a relationship exists between consumption of a food or ingredient in the food, and a person's health. In other words, if a cereal has fiber the package may state something like ‘eating fiber can help with regularity and lower cholesterol.” The trouble is, people don’t pay enough attention to the dose. And dose is everything. Let’s consider an analogy to make this point. Imagine that you purchased a bottle of wine and the bottle said, ‘drinking alcohol can lead to liver cancer.’ You would probably think that the claim didn’t apply to you since you were only going to have a glass or two. Yet, when it comes to health benefits and food, we’re all too eager to eat them up! And this can fool us into thinking we’re being healthier than we are. Perhaps this is why despite all of the supposed healthy foods on the shelves, obesity and obesity related illnesses are on the rise.
Health claims on natural health products such as supplements and vitamins can be similarly challenging. Again, dose is extremely important. Many products out there purport health benefits associated with the vitamin or nutrient but do not contain sufficient concentrations of those vitamins or nutrients to do any good whatsoever. It’s therefore much more important to choose quality brands with good reputations for supplying sufficient doses of quality ingredients than simply believing a catchy label.
Bottom line: Be an informed consumer and spend a few extra minutes reading the fine print, ingredients, and doses. It’s worth it to spend a few extra dollars on a quality product that does what it’s supposed to, than a few less on a placebo with a fancy label.