What Everyone Ought to Know About Nutrition Label Claims

When you pick up a new food product at the grocery store does your head start to spin? There are so many claims – low sugar, light in sodium, cholesterol free. One says ‘reduced fat’ while the other says ‘low fat.’ Isn’t that the same thing? When did grocery shopping get so complicated?

If you’re confused by all of the terminology used on food packaging, you’re not alone. To food companies, those health claims are just another form of advertising, used to draw you in and choose their product over another. Just because a product has a health claim, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s healthier. It’s important to look at all the nutrition facts to make your decision.

Fortunately these claims are all regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), so each one has a very specific meaning. Below are the major claims used with each nutrient to help you better understand what you’re buying, and ultimately putting into your body.

A quick note – when reading these claims, it’s important to remember that they are per serving. If you’re eating three or four servings of low sodium chips, your snack probably isn’t so low in sodium anymore. Even though these claims are regulated, you still may want to glance at nutrition labels to learn specifics about each product.

Fat:

  • Low** Fat – 3 grams of fat or less per serving
  • Low** Saturated Fat – 1 gram of saturated fat or less per serving and 15 percent or less total calories from fat
  • Fat Free* – Less than 0.5 grams of fat per serving
  • Saturated Fat Free* – Less than 0.5 grams of saturated fat per serving and less than 0.5 grams of trans fat per serving

Sodium:

  • Light in Sodium – At least 50 percent less sodium than the original item
  • Lightly Salted – 50 percent less sodium added during processing than for the original item
  • No Salt Added/Unsalted – No additional salt was added during processing. This does not mean the item is sodium free (products must also declare “this is not a sodium free food” if using this claim but there is sodium in the product)
  • Low** Sodium – 140 mg of sodium or less per serving
  • Very Low Sodium – Less than 35 mg of sodium per serving
  • Sodium Free* – Less than 5 mg of sodium per serving

Calories:

  • Low** Calorie – Less than 40 calories per serving
  • Calorie Free* – Less than 5 calories per serving

Sugar:

  • Sugar Free* – Less than 0.5 grams of sugar per serving
  • No Added Sugar, Without Added Sugar – No sugar or ingredients containing sugar were added during processing.

Cholesterol:

  • Low** Cholesterol – 20 mg of cholesterol or less and 2 grams of saturated fat or less per serving
  • Cholesterol Free* – Less than 2 mg of cholesterol per serving
  • No cholesterol claims can be made if there are more than 2 grams of saturated fat.
  • Note: Cholesterol is only found in animal products, so all plant-based products are naturally cholesterol free.

So now you know the difference between “light” and “low,” “sugar free” and “no added sugar,” and all those other seemingly complex nutrition claims. You’re armed and ready to hit the grocery store to make informed decisions for your family and yourself.

*”without,” “no,” and “zero” are all acceptable terms to use in place of “free”.
** “little,” “few,” “light,” “lite,” and “low source of” are all acceptable terms to use in place of “low”

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The Type2Diabetes.com team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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