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Q: I find it confusing to interpret the various food claims that appear on the front of packaging. Can you help me to understand the difference between some of the claims such as “low fat” versus “no fat”?
A: Food labels have become more confusing over the years as slick advertising claims make products appear to be healthy, when in fact, they are not. However, you do not need a degree in biochemistry to become familiar with what is in your food, but you do need to know the definitions of the claims that keep popping up on your food items. Once you become informed as a consumer, you can take control of your food choices and select only the highest quality ingredients to feed yourself and your family.
The claims on the front of boxes have specific regulations as defined by the government. Some of the most common claims and their definitions include:
• "Calorie-free" means the food contains less than 5 calories per serving.
• "Low calorie" means the food contains 40 calories or less per serving. (For serving size, check the "Nutrition Facts" box on the back.)
• "Reduced calorie" means the food contains at least 25 % fewer calories than regular versions of the product.
• "Lite" or "light" means the food contains one-third fewer calories or one-half the fat of the traditional version of the food.
• "Fat-free" means the food contains less than 0.5 grams of fat per serving.
• "Free" means the food contains none or trivial amounts of a substance, such as sodium, fat, cholesterol, calories, or sugars.
• "Low-fat" means 3 grams of fat or less per serving.
• "Reduced fat" (same as "reduced calorie") means it contains at least 25 % less fat than regular versions of the food. (Please Note: a "reduced fat" mayonnaise or margarine will still contain plenty of fat. "Reduced fat" may be many calories away from "low-fat.")
• "Cholesterol-free" means the food has no more than 2 milligrams of cholesterol and 2 grams or less of saturated fat per serving.
• "Low cholesterol" means the food has no more than 20 milligrams of cholesterol and 2 grams or less of saturated fat per serving.
• "Good source" means a serving must contain 10 to 19 % of the daily value of a particular nutrient (e.g. vitamin A).
• "High" (e.g. high-iron) means the serving contains 20 % or more of the recommended daily value of this nutrient.
Becoming an informed label reader is one of the most powerful approaches you can take toward improving your health and wellness. Tune in next week to learn how to properly read a Nutrition Fact label!
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