THE CLAIM: "Calcium helps build strong bones"
This is an example of what's called a structure/function claim. "These are confusing, because they aren't really about the food," says Blake. The FDA requires that claims describing the effect of a nutrient on the body such as "fiber lowers cholesterol" be truthful, but these claims don't guarantee that the food contains any particular amount of that nutrient. So while it's true that calcium does build strong bones, for instance, that claim could appear on a chocolate bar which has calcium from milk, sure, but may have much more sugar and fat, making it less healthful than other calcium-rich foods, like yogurt.
Bottom line: Ignore functional claims altogether.
THE CLAIM: "Probiotic cultures"
Probiotics healthy bacteria that keep harmful bacteria at bay in your digestive tract have been linked in studies with improving gastrointestinal health and boosting immunity. But the FDA hasn't set standards for probiotics, so there's no way to know for sure that there's live, active bacteria in the yogurt or other products you see labeled with that word let alone enough bacteria to offer these benefits.
Bottom line: Make sure you're getting live bacteria by buying yogurts such as Yoplait or Stonyfield that carry the National Yogurt Association Live & Active Cultures seal or have the words contains live and active cultures on the label. Whether or not you get enough cultures to reap the purported perks, you're still eating a food that's high in protein and calcium crucial nutrients, especially for women.
THE CLAIM: "Contains omega-3s"
When a package bears the word contains before any nutrient, the food must contain at least 10 percent of the daily value of that nutrient per serving, says Blake. When it comes to omega-3 fatty acids, it's also important to know which type of omega-3 the food contains. DHA and EPA the omega-3 fats found in fish are the ones most commonly linked to a lower risk of heart disease.
Bottom line: You can trust any contains claims. If a food doesn't specify which omega-3 it offers, check the ingredient list.