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Terms On A Food Label: What Do They Mean?

Food Labels & What They Mean

Healthy eating has never been easier, thanks to the food nutrition label. Most foods in the grocery store have a nutrition label and an ingredient list(How to Read Food Labels). Claims like “low cholesterol” and “fat-free” can be used only on a label if a food meets legal standards set by the government.

Reading the nutrition label can help you choose foods that make up a healthful diet. Eating a healthful diet can help reduce your risk factors for certain diseases. For example, too much-saturated fat and cholesterol can possibly raise blood cholesterol (a risk factor for heart disease). Too much sodium may be linked to high blood pressure. High blood pressure is a risk factor for heart attack and stroke. Being healthy daily is up to you. In addition to eating a balanced, nutritious diet daily also stay active, do not smoke, and watch your weight.

Here is a chart that provides some keywords and health claims on product labels, and what they mean as defined by the government.
For example:

If a food claims to be…It means that one serving of the product contains…
Calorie freeLess than 5 calories
Sugar freeLess than 0.5 grams of sugar
Fat freeLess than 0.5 grams of fat
Low fat3 grams of fat or less
Reduced fat or less fatAt least 25 percent less fat than the regular product
Low in saturated fat1 gram of saturated fat or less, with not more than 15 percent of the calories coming from saturated fat
LeanLess than 10 grams of fat, 4.5 grams of saturated fat and 95 milligrams of cholesterol
Extra leanLess than 5 grams of fat, 2 grams of saturated fat and 95 milligrams of cholesterol
Light (lite)At least one-third fewer calories or no more than half the fat of the regular product, or no more than half the sodium of the regular product
Cholesterol freeLess than 2 milligrams of cholesterol and 2 grams (or less) of saturated fat
Low cholesterol20 or fewer milligrams of cholesterol and 2 grams or less of saturated fat
Reduced cholesterolAt least 25 percent less cholesterol than the regular product and 2 grams or less of saturated fat
Sodium free or no sodiumLess than 5 milligrams of sodium and no sodium chloride in ingredients
Very low sodium35 milligrams or less of sodium
Low sodium140 milligrams or less of sodium
Reduced or less sodiumAt least 25 percent less sodium than the regular product
High fiber5 grams or more of fiber
Good source of fiber2.5 to 4.9 grams of fiber

If you can’t remember the definitions of all of the terms, use these general guidelines instead:

  • “Free” means the food has the least possible amount of the specified nutrient.
  • “Very Low” and “Low” mean the food has a little more than foods labeled “Free.”
  • “Reduced” or “Less” means the food has 25 percent less of a specific nutrient than the regular version of the food.

Here are a few more tips for getting as much health information as possible from the Nutrition Facts label:

  • Remember that the information shown in these panels is based on 2,000 calories a day. You may need to consume less or more than 2,000 calories depending upon your age, gender, activity level, and whether you’re trying to lose, gain or maintain your weight.
  • In general, as you think about the number of calories in a food per serving, remember that for a 2,000-calorie diet:
    40 calories per serving are considered low;
    100 calories per serving are considered moderate; and
    400 calories or more per serving is considered high.
  • When the Nutrition Facts label says a food contains “0 g” of trans fat, but includes “partially hydrogenated oil” in the ingredient list, it means the food contains trans fat, but less than 0.5 grams of trans fat per serving. So, if you eat more than one serving, you could quickly reach your daily limit of trans fat. Be careful!