Food Labels: Fact or Fiction

The labeling on food items is often confusing for consumers.

The labeling on food items is often confusing for consumers and sometimes marketers use this to their advantage. Phrases such as “a good source of calcium” may tempt you to choose a food product, but after reading the label you discover the fat content far outweighs the benefits of those few grams of calcium.

Of course, as consumers we must pay close attention to what the manufacturer considers a serving. How often have you grabbed a handful of treats labeled calorie-free and discovered that after the first three the calorie count is the same as a chocolate bar?

The good news for consumers is that health claims by manufacturers must be based on current, reliable scientific studies and they must be approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The FDA has a list of legally defined food label claims that consumers can trust. These per serving claims and their definitions are:

  • Calorie-free: Less than 5 calories
  • Fat-free or sugar-free: Less than ½ gram of fat or sugar
  • Good source of: At least 10 percent of the daily value of a nutrient
  • High in: Provides 20 percent or more of the Daily(DV) of a nutrient
  • High fiber: 5 or more grams of fiber
  • Lean: Less than 10 grams of fat, 4.5 grams or less of saturated fat, and less than 95 mg of cholesterol in a 3-ounce serving of meat, poultry or seafood
  • Light or lite: 1/3 fewer calories or half the fat than the regular product
  • Low-calorie: 40 calories or less
  • Low-fat: 3 grams of fat or less
  • Low-cholesterol: Less than 20 mg of cholesterol and 2 grams or less of saturated fat
  • Low-sodium: Less than 140 mg of sodium

So the next time you reach for an item that’s labeled “low-fat,” “low-sodium,” “light,” “lite” or “free,” you can trust that the FDA standardized those claims and they are accurate.


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