Food Labels and Nutrition Terms Explained

Food and nutrition labels are there to help consumers choose a healthier diet, at least in theory. Understanding all the information found in these labels is important especially for people who stick to special diets as well as consumers who suffer from food sensitivities. Unfortunately, certain label terms are either confusing or information about the terms is vague. To help you make better food choices, here are the definitions to some of the most common nutrition terms you’ll find on food labels.

Food Labels

Low Fat

According to the FDA guideline, this term is used for a food item that contains no more than 3 grams of fat per 100 gram for solids and 1.5 grams of fat per 100 ml. for liquids. For semi-skimmed milk, the fat should be 1.8 grams per 100 ml. Certain food items like raisins, nuts, and grains, by which the serving is smaller, the food item should not contain more than 3 grams of fat per 50 grams.

The guideline for main dishes, packed meals, and similar products is slightly different. To be considered as low fat, a dish’s serving portion of 100 grams must not contain more than 3 grams of fat. In addition, the portion should not contain more than 30% calories from fat.

Grocery store

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Reduced Fat

Reduced fat is a term used for food items that contain a minimum of 25% less fat than the regular product. That means the food item should contain 3 grams less fat per 100 grams of food than the regular item. Contrary to popular notion, reduced fat doesn’t mean that the food item is low in fat. It means the food item contains less fat than the original version. A great example would be reduced fat milk vs. full-fat milk.

Low Sugar

This term is used for food items that contain less than 5 grams of sugar per 100 grams of food.

No Sugar Added

This means the food contains no added sugar as an ingredient. This label is often seen on fruits and milk. Do note that just because a food item has a “no sugar added” label does not mean that it is low in sugar.  The food may contain naturally occurring sugars and even have quite a lot of it. Certain types of fruits, for instance, are high in sugar. When it comes to dairy products, most have lactose, a type of naturally occurring sugar specific to dairy products.

Mini wheats galore

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Low Calorie

Low calorie is a nutrition label used for food items that contain no more than 40 calories per serving (except sugar substitutes). Low-calorie meals and dishes should contain less than 120 calories per 100-gram serving.

Light

According to the FDA’s regulations, light or lite is a term used to describe a food item with significantly reduced fat, calories, and sodium. The caloric content of the light food item should be lower by 30% to 50% in one typical value (calories, fat, or sodium) than a standard product. This explains why some food items contain the label: 30% less fat or 50% less sodium, etc. To determine the exact fat or caloric content of a light food item, always look at the information per 100 gram. The label Light could also refer to the texture, color, or consistency of a food item. That means you shouldn’t assume that a light food items is better than the normal one. Always look at the nutrition info on the label to determine that.