What does ‘fat-free’, ‘low-fat’, ‘reduced fat’, ‘light’ and other claims on food labels really mean? Does ‘fat-free’ really mean what it suggests? Questions such as these run through the mind of consumers, especially those who are looking to improve their diet. The truth is, labels found on many food products do not always tell the whole story and can be misleading if the consumer is not familiar with the definitions and boundaries that nutrition claims can fall within.
The Food and Drug Administration requires food manufacturers to adhere to strict regulations on what can and can’t be printed on food labels. The following food labeling terms describe the level of a nutrient in food:
Free: A product has no amount of, or only a trivial amount of, one of the following compounds: fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, sodium, sugars and calories.
Calorie-Free — fewer than 5 calories per serving
Sugar-Free — less than . 5 grams per serving
Fat-Free — less than . 5 grams per serving
Choosing “free” foods can be healthful and give to a calorie deficit at the end of the day. Unfortunately, “free” often means that other chemicals used to replace what was taken out.
Low: Foods that can be eaten often without exceeding dietary guidelines for one or more of these components: fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, sodium and calories.
Low fat — 3 grams or less per serving
Low saturated fat — 1 gram or less per serving
Low sodium — 140 milligrams or less per serving
Very low sodium — 35 milligrams or less per serving
Low cholesterol — 20 milligrams or less and 2 grams or less of saturated fat per serving
Low calorie — 40 calories or less per serving Low foods are healthful and help keep calories down. Lean and Extra Lean: These terms can be used to describe the fat content of meat, poultry, seafood and game meats.
Lean — less than 10 grams of fat, 4.5 or less of saturated fat and less than 95 milligrams of cholesterol per serving and per 100 grams
Extra Lean — less than 5 grams of fat, less than 2 grams of saturated fat and less than 95 milligrams cholesterol per serving and per 100 grams
You should strive to select lean meats compared to higher fat cuts. It may take your taste buds a little adjusting, but it’s better for your health and will help keep calories down.
High: This term can be used if the food has 20 percent or more of the daily value for a particular nutrient in a serving. Good Source: These terms mean that one serving of a food contains 10-19 percent of the Daily Value for a particular nutrient. For example, orange juice containers may say “good source of Vitamin C.”Reduced: This term means that a nutritionally altered product has at least 25 percent less of a nutrient or calories as compared to the regular or reference product.
However, a reduced claim can’t be made in a product if its reference food already meets the need for a low claim. Less: This term means that a food, whether altered or not, has 25 percent less of a nutrient or calories as compared to the reference food. For example, pretzels that have 25 percent less fat than potato chips. Fewer is an acceptable synonym for less.
Light: This descriptor can mean two things. A nutritionally altered product has 1/3 fewer calories or 1/2 the fat of the reference food. If the food derives 50 percent or more of the calories from fat, the reduction must be 50 percent of the fat. Second, the sodium content of a low-calorie, low-fat food has been reduced by 50 percent. The term light can still be used to describe properties such as texture and color as long as the label explains the intent.
For example, light brown sugar.
More: A serving of food contains a nutrient that is at least 10 percent more of the Daily Value than the reference food. Percent Fat-Free: A product bearing this claim must be a low-fat or fat-free product. The claim must accurately represent the amount of fat present in 100 grams of the food.
Now that you know the definitions of the nutritional claims found on most foods, this should help in deciding which foods to buy for you and your family!