Let’s be clear: Statements about nutritional antioxidants are not health claims, although consumers may think differently. They are nutrient content claims, regulated under separate and more lenient standards.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) published a guidance document in July 2008 that defined the term “antioxidant” in nutrient content claims made for dietary supplements and conventional foods. In the document, FDA stated that such compounds must have recognized antioxidant activity, specifically, “scientific evidence that, after it is eaten and absorbed from the gastrointestinal tract, the substance participates in physiological, biochemical or cellular processes that inactivate free radicals or prevent free radical-initiated chemical reactions.”

Guidance documents are not regulations and do not establish legally enforceable responsibilities. FDA noted that this summary described the agency’s current thinking on the topic and should be viewed as recommendations.

So, where does that leave antioxidant statements made on food packages? Right where they are today: open to interpretation as long as specific health claims remain unvoiced.

That said, in 2010 the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) slapped down an immunity claim made by Kellogg’s for two cereals formulated with added antioxidants and targeted at children. Later that year, the cereal company introduced its Fiber Plus brand, which now encompasses cereals, waffles and nutrition bars. The line makes nutrient content claims for fiber and antioxidant vitamins C and E. A special website,www.kelloggsfiberplus.com, tells the nutrition story. So far, FTC has been silent on this brand.