Understanding Nutrient Claims

Heather Reese Health Guide
  • Food labels are a helpful tool when trying to choose healthy foods and they are especially useful for those with special dietary restrictions. These labels are printed on most packaged food items. They tell you serving size as well as how many calories and how much fat, carbohydrate, sodium and other nutrients are in one serving. Additionally, food manufacturers also make nutrition claims like "low fat" or "light" on the food packaging. This information can also help you determine the healthfulness of a food item.

     

    These nutrition claims along with the information included on the food label can help you make informed decisions about the foods that you eat. However, if you don't know what these claims mean, they can be very confusing. Have you ever wondered what the difference is between "low-fat" and "reduced fat"? What does it mean when a food package says that the item is "light"? And can manufacturers put anything they want on the food packaging?

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    It's good to know that nutrition claims like "light" and "low-sodium" do have standard definitions and regulations that have been set forth by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). This means that these claims can only be used if the food item meets strict government guidelines. In fact, the FDA requires food manufacturers to provide scientific evidence before they can include nutrition claims on their food packaging.

     

    By understanding what these claims mean, you can use food packaging to compare products and choose which food items are most appropriate for your dietary needs. The definition of any food claim is based on one serving of the food item and that is always the first thing you should look for when comparing products.

     

    Below is a list of popular nutrition claims that you will see on food labels and what they actually mean.

     

    General Claims

    Light or Lite

    • Has one-third fewer calories or half the fat per serving of the comparison product.
    • Has 50 percent less fat per serving than the comparison product.
    • Has 50 percent less sodium per serving than the comparison product.

    Reduced

    • Has 25 percent less of a nutrient or calories per serving than the comparison product.

    Calorie Claims

    Calorie Free

    • Has less than 5 calories per serving.

    Low Calorie

    • Has 40 calories or less per serving.

    Reduced or Fewer Calories

    • Has at least 25 percent fewer calories per serving than the comparison product.

     

    Cholesterol Claims

    Cholesterol Free

    • Has less than 2 milligrams cholesterol and 2 grams or less saturated fat per serving.

    Low Cholesterol

    • Has 20 milligrams or less cholesterol and 2 grams or less saturated fat per serving.

     

    Fat Claims

    Fat Free

    • Has less than 0.5 grams fat per serving.

    Low Fat

    • Has 3 grams or less fat per serving.

    Reduced Fat

    • Has 25 percent less fat per serving than the comparison product.

    Low Saturated Fat

    • Has 1 gram or less saturated fat and 15 percent less calories from fat per serving.

     

    Sodium Claims

    Light in Sodium

    • Has 50 percent less sodium per serving than the comparison product.

    Low Sodium

    • Has 140 milligrams or less sodium per serving.

    Very Low Sodium

    • Has less than 35 milligrams sodium per serving.

     

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    Fiber Claims

    High Fiber

    • Contains at least 5 grams fiber per serving.

     

    Sugar Claims

    Sugar Free

    • Has less than 0.5 grams sugar per serving.

     

    It is helpful to know what these claims mean when choosing food items. But it is important to remember that even though a food item is considered "low fat" or "sugar free", it doesn't mean that it can't contribute to weight gain if eaten in large quantities. Food manufacturers often substitute fat for sugar and vice versa to improve the quality of taste and texture when making "low fat" and "sugar free" products. That means that a food item marked "low fat" may have more sugar than the full fat version and a food item marked "sugar free" may be high in fat.

Published On: August 17, 2007