I think it’s safe to say, if you are looking for meat at a grocery store , and you come across something called “Imitation Chicken,” you’ll think twice before throwing it in your cart. But what exactly does a food that is an “imitation” of another entail?
If you have ever wondered this, you’re not alone. Food labels can be mysterious, but thankfully, there are some guidelines about food and food substitutes.
The Nutritional Difference
If a product is nutritionally inferior to the product it is trying to replicate, it is an imitation food. For something to be nutritionally inferior, there needs to be a reduction in the amount of an essential Two categories: micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) and m... More (carbohydrates, protein, fat, vitamins, or minerals) that is present in a measurable amount in the regular food. A “measurable amount” is 2% or more of the Daily Reference Value or Reference Daily Intake, whichever applies.
See also: What’s on the Nutrition Label?
Crab Flakes, a product labeled “Imitation” because it does not contain crab, and is high in sodium. Highly popular for its low-calorie and fat content compared to crab meat.
So that makes sense, but what about if a food is not nutritionally inferior, but still different? Does there need to be anything on the label clarifying the distinction? The answer to that is yes.
The Physical Difference
If a food or drink is nutritionally equivalent or even healthier than what is trying to replicate, the product is a substitute. Substitutes do not need to have the word “substitute” in their title, but manufacturers are required to include any characteristics that separate it from the regular food, i.e. “Not recommended for baking purposes.”
See also: Get to Know Your Nutrients
Moral of the story: not all imitation foods are bad, but be sure to read the nutrient panel to find the differences. Keep in mind that substitutes may be just as healthy or healthier, but are not perfect replicas. Be on the lookout for claims noting differences.
Thanks for reading!
Electronic Code of Federal Regulations. Title 21, Chapter I, Subchapter B, Part 101, February, 2016. http://www.ecfr.gov/cgi-bin/text-idx?SID=0811a061720528cac7d88e839b14cb5c&pitd=20160216&tpl=/ecfrbrowse/Title21/21cfr101_main_02.tpl. Accessed September 9, 2016.