The Low-Down On Food Label Claims!

It can be confusing when the goal is to eat healthy, yet when we read the food labels, we sometimes ask ourselves "What does all the jargon mean?" Here are the main label claims used on food packages--and what they mean:
  • Saturated Fat--

    *Saturated fat free: Less than 1/2 gram saturated fat in a serving; levels of trans fatty acids must be not more than 1 percent of total fat.

    **Low saturated fat: 1 gram saturated fat or less in a serving and 15 percent or less of calories from saturated fat. For a meal or main dish (like a frozen dinner): 1 gram saturated fat or less in 100 grams of food and less than 10 percent of calories from saturated fat.
  • Cholesterol--

    *Cholesterol free: Less than 2 milligrams (mg) cholesterol in a serving; saturated fat content must be 2 grams or less in a serving.

    **Low cholesterol: 20 mg cholesterol or less in a serving; saturated fat content must be 2 grams or less in a serving. For a meal or main dish: 20 mg cholesterol or less in 100 grams of food, with saturated fat content less than 2 grams in 100 grams of food.
  • Fat--

    *Fat free: Less than 1/2 gram fat in a serving.

    **Low fat: 3 grams total fat or less in a serving. For a meal or main dish: 3 grams total fat or less in 100 grams of food and not more than 30 percent calories from fat.

    Percent fat free--A food with this claim must also meet the low fat claim.
  • Calories--

    *Calorie free: Less than 5 calories in a serving.

    **Low calorie: 40 calories or less in a serving.
  • Sodium--

    *Sodium free: Less than 5 mg sodium in a serving.

    **Low sodium: 140 mg sodium or less in a serving. For a meal or main dish: 140 mg sodium or less in 100 grams of food.

    Very low sodium: 35 mg sodium or less in a serving.

*Words that mean the same thing as free: "no," "zero," "without," "trivial source of," "negligible source of," and "dietary insignificant source of."

**Words that mean the same thing as low: "contains a small amount of" and "low source of."

  • Light -- A product has been changed to have half the fat or one-third fewer calories than the regular product; or the sodium in a low calorie, low fat food has been cut by 50 percent; or a meal or main dish is low fat or low calorie.

    "Light" also may be used to describe things like the color or texture of a food, as long as the label explains this: for example, "light brown sugar" or "light and fluffy."

  • Reduced/Less/Lower/Fewer--A food (like a lower-fat hot dog or a lower-sodium cracker) has at least 25 percent less of something like calories, fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, or sodium than the regular food or a similar food to which it is compared.

  • Lean and Extra Lean--Two terms--"lean" and "extra lean"--are used to describe the fat content of meat, poultry, fish, and shellfish.

  • Lean--Less than 10 grams fat, 4.5 grams or less of saturated fat, and less than 95 mg cholesterol in a serving.

  • Extra lean--Less than 5 grams fat, less than 2 grams saturated fat, and less than 95 mg cholesterol in a serving.
(Source: National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute-National Institutes Of Health)
Last Editorial Review: 7/9/2002



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