The expanding waistlines of American consumers and the growing capabilities of science share more in common than one may think. Both of these unrelated occurrences have paved the way for Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) increased role in the baking industry.
Not since FDA first introduced the Nutrition Facts panel in 1993 has more buzz surrounded the labeling of foods. First, trans-fat regulations marked the first change to the Nutrition Facts panel since its inception. Now, FDA has taken responsibility for shrinking the waistlines and improving the health of Americans.
The agency plans to accomplish this task by encouraging food manufacturers to make claims about the health benefits of their products, thus spurring competition on the healthfulness of a product. The idea of competition based on health claims may make a few bakers chuckle, but studies continue to show that Americans are becoming a nation of label readers.
However, how do bakers make healthful products taste great? Fortunately, this is not the 1980s and 1990s, when low-fat bakery foods flooded the marketplace. Although these products had less fat, they sometimes contained more calories, and almost always tasted poor.
Advancements in ingredient technology allow bakers to cut the fat and improve the healthfulness of products without sacrificing taste. Many healthful mixes, bases and concentrates provide bakers with easy-touse formulations that may increase sales. These mixes allow bakers to focus on positioning and marketing healthful products instead of investing significant time in research and development.
When producing healthful bakery foods, labeling and packaging plays an immense role. For most bakers, however, FDA’s labeling laws and regulations read more like hieroglyphics than a how-to guide. Deciphering these guidelines poses challenges, but proper knowledge of labeling regulations leads to increased benefits.
There are three categories of claims that high-volume bakeries can use for their products: health claims, structure/ function claims and dietary guidance statements. Health claims describe a relationship between a food substance and a disease or healthrelated condition. In the baking industry, several manufacturers have taken advantage of the whole grain health claim, which links the benefits of whole grains to reducing the risk of heart disease and some cancers.
Structure/function claims may claim a benefit related to a nutrient deficiency disease, but make no reference to the disease. “Instead, they highlight how the food substance works within or otherwise supports the body,” FDA states. For example, “Calcium builds strong bones,” is a structure function/claim.
Dietary guidance statements focus on general dietary patterns, practices and recommendations that promote health. These claims are not reviewed by FDA, but must be truthful and non-misleading, the agency states.
Although these three categories of health claims provide the food industry with several options for promoting health benefits, the agency’s strict requirements make it difficult to introduce new claims. As a result, FDA enacted a Consumer Health Information for Better Nutrition Initiative, which opens the door to claims that do not meet Significant Scientific Agreement (SSA). Before this initiative was announced, a “totality of publicly available scientific evidence” was needed for a claim to be authorized by FDA. Now, health claims can be approved if the “weight of scientific evidence” supports the claim.