Low carbohydrate diets are nutritional programs that limit the consumption of carbohydrates. Foods such as bread and sugar which contain highly digestible carbohydrates are replaced with foods that contain moderate levels of proteins and fats and low-level carbohydrates such as fish, eggs, nuts, and vegetables. A low carbohydrate diet is one that limits the amount of sugar consumed by less than 20% of the entire calorie intake or simply a diet that minimizes the level of carbohydrates to less than the recommended proportions.
However, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulate claims that are used on food and supplements labels, and it has categorized the applications into three categories as defined by the FDA statute: health claims, nutrient content claims, and structure/function claims.
· Health claims: - These are statements that describe a relationship between a food substance and a reduced risk of a health condition or disease.
· Nutrient content claims: - These represent the levels of nutrients in products using words such as free, low and high or comparing the levels of nutrients in two types of food and using terms such reduced or more.
· Structure/ Function Claims: - These describe the roles of nutrients as they affect normal functions in humans such as calcium makes bones stronger.
Therefore, The Nutritional Labeling and Education Act (NLEA) is the body in charge of permitting the using of claims that characterize nutrient levels in foods, by the FDA regulations. These rules only allow for accurate quantitative statements that do not describe the level as either low or high. For instance instead of “only 150 g of carbohydrate”; the law stipulates an accurate quantitative statement such as 150 g of carbohydrates.
FDA requires that manufacturers, restaurants and other entities that use the nutrient content claims that are descriptive in nature (e.g. low or high) do have nutritional criteria that are standardized across all products and are used consistently so as to ensure that the claims are meaningful to the consumers. In addition to the descriptive nutritional value claims above, terms such as healthy can be used to characterize food as having healthy levels of required carbohydrates by the human body. There are also other categories of nutrient claims such as the percentage claims that describe the percentage levels of ingredients. These are also regulated because they may refer to components that do not have established daily values.
Low carbohydrate foods producers and restaurants should, therefore, make use of the following nutritional content claims as per the FDA regulations:
· Sugar-Free: - Used when the product contains less than 0.5 grams of sugar per Reference Amounts Customarily Consumed
· Less/ Reduced Sugar: - Used when the amount of sugar is at least 25% per Reference Amount Customarily Consumed or for main dishes when the amount of sugar is at least 25% less sugar per 100 grams.
· No added sugar and without sugar added: - Are allowed if no sugar-containing ingredient is added as the processing state of the food.
The nutrition facts labels help consumers to make informed decisions and maintain healthy diets. Therefore, it is of utmost importance that always provide updated serving requirements for all products.