Friday, March 8, 2024

What You Need to Know About the New Qualified Health Claim for Yogurt: And why it should be used judiciously


As many of us were ending our work week seven days ago, we were surprised that FDA announced the first-ever qualified health claim for yogurt. It was in response to a petition submitted by Danone North America nearly five years ago. During this time, FDA reviewed the existing research on yogurt and type 2 diabetes, which included data from more than 300,000 individuals, and found including yogurt in the typical American diet could have a benefit to public health.

I agree. Yogurt is a nutrient-dense food. It is packed with high-quality, complete protein. It contains many vitamins and minerals, and today, most yogurts also include beneficial bacteria. But, not all yogurts are created equal, especially when it comes to added sugars. The latter has already generated a lot of criticism regarding the approval of the claim and its use. After all, added sugar intake has been linked to obesity, which is turn is associated with type 2 diabetes, among other health concerns.  

Two versions of the new claim were permitted by FDA. They are: “Eating yogurt regularly (at least three servings per week) may reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes, according to limited scientific evidence” and “Eating yogurt regularly may reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes. FDA has concluded there is limited information supporting this claim.” 

Diabetes is one of the top 10 causes of death in the U.S., impacting more than 37 million Americans with 1.4 million new cases diagnosed every year. Trust me, I know. My husband of 25 years died this past June from type 1 diabetes-related ailments. 

The overwhelming majority of annual new diabetes cases in the U.S. are type 2, not type 1. Type 2 can often be managed with lifestyle changes, such as being more active and eating nutrient-rich foods. Based on this new qualified health claim, yogurt could be one of those foods. But what about the sugar? 

Well, CNN took note of this. The news outlet interviewed Marion Nestle, the Paulette Goddard Professor of Nutrition, Food Studies and Public Health, Emerita, at New York University, who is a very vocal critique of processed foods and added sugars. 
She told CNN, “Why would any sensible person think that all you have to do to prevent type 2 diabetes is eat 2 cups of yogurt a week? All we can hope is that the yogurt is at least unsweetened, but since it’s really hard to find unsweetened yogurt, this is telling people who want to avoid type 2 diabetes that sweetened yogurts are good for them.”

Read the CNN article HERE

Here’s what you need to understand about qualified health claims (QHC). These QHCs are supported by scientific evidence, but do not meet the more rigorous “significant scientific agreement” standard required for an authorized health claim. To ensure that these claims are not misleading, they must be accompanied by a disclaimer or other qualifying language to accurately communicate to consumers the level of scientific evidence supporting the claim.

Qualified health claims have only been allowed by FDA for dietary supplements since 2000 and for food since 2002. They are also rarely announced, reports CNN. “In the past decade, only 10 foods have been allowed to be sold with such claims, including high-flavonol cocoa powder for reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, and certain cranberry products for lowered odds of recurrent urinary tract infections among women.”

The Fine Print
Halfway through the March 1, 2024, letter in response to Docket No. FDA-2019-P-1594, which can be accessed HERE, we learn that FDA warns that the new claim should not be used on yogurts that contain specified maximum levels (to make any health claim) for total fat, saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium in accordance with 21 CFR 101.14(a)(4).  FDA also states that this should not be an issue, as yogurt generally does not exceed these levels. 

But, FDA also states that the agency has not set a disqualifying nutrient level for added sugars. So, the amount of sugar or added sugar in yogurt currently does not impact use of the claim. 

In the claim’s defense, the credible scientific evidence found a statistically significant association between risk reduction of type 2 diabetes and yogurt as a food, rather than any single nutrient or compound in yogurt, and irrespective of fat or sugar content. 

Still, FDA recognized that use of the qualified health claim on yogurts that contain a significant amount of added sugars could contribute empty calories to the diet. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025 recommend limiting added sugars to less than 10% of total calories and note that added sugars account, on average, for almost 270 calories, or more than 13% of total calories per day in the U.S. population.  

Please be smart when using this claim. Yogurt is such a powerful superfood, we don’t want this claim to tarnish its healthful reputation. 

Here’s a better approach to communicate its power. 

To help consumers better identify yogurt, frozen yogurt and other cultured dairy products containing live and active yogurt cultures, the International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA) is relaunching its Live & Active Cultures (LAC) Seal for manufacturers. IDFA’s LAC Seal is the only widely recognized, independent verification that a dairy product contains significant levels of live and active yogurt cultures. Recently, IDFA updated the policies and guidelines around use of the LAC Seal and is broadening the availability of the logo to the full yogurt and cultured dairy products industry. 

“If your company manufactures yogurt or other cultured dairy products—such as frozen yogurt and kefir—and you are interested in using the LAC Seal on your products, IDFA is now making it easier than ever to obtain the seal for use on product packaging and labels, demonstrating to consumers and other customers that your products contain valuable live and active yogurt cultures,” said John Allan, IDFA vice president of regulatory affairs and administrator of the IDFA’s LAC Seal program. “The LAC Seal is the best way to reach consumers with this unique health and wellness attribute.” 

I agree. 

The LAC Seal is a voluntary certification available to all manufacturers of yogurt and cultured dairy products whose products contain at least 100 million cultures per gram, which is 10 times higher than the minimum levels required by FDA. The LAC Seal can also be used for frozen yogurt that contains at least 10 million cultures per gram at the time of manufacture.

When it comes to yogurt and similar cultured dairy products, the words “live and active cultures” are persuasive. Two-thirds (67%) of those who have at least heard of live and active cultures believe that a product containing them is better for them, according to 2021 consumer research from the International Food Information Council (IFIC). The 2023 Food and Health Survey from IFIC showed that nearly one in three (32%) consumers seek out foods that provide digestive health/gut health benefits. This is up from 25% in 2021. 

The words “live and active cultures” refer to the living organisms—in this case the bacteria, Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus—which convert pasteurized milk to yogurt and other cultured dairy products during fermentation. This fermentation process is what creates yogurt, with its unique taste, texture and healthful attributes. This includes gut health. Live and active cultures also help break down lactose in milk, assisting people who have trouble breaking down lactose so they can eat yogurt without digestive discomfort. Live and active cultures also include probiotic bacteria, which are recognized as providing the host a healthful benefit. 

Please proceed with caution with the qualified health claim. Consider adding the LAC Seal, as well as promoting yogurt’s nutrient density. The latter is a concept that research shows resonates with younger consumers. 

No comments:

Post a Comment