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Pay Attention to Nutrient Content Claims

With all of the health conscious food labeling on products, it is difficult to determine which kind of food is better than another. You may have found yourself in the frozen foods aisle at your grocery store contemplating the true difference between “light”, “low-fat”, and “fat free”. These terms you see on food packaging are called nutrient content claims –i.e. low-fat, reduced calorie, light— and, in order to make those claims, the food manufacturers must adhere to specific definitions developed by the Food and Drug Administration. Below is a list of a few of these regulations. Hopefully these simple definitions will help you determine which milk to buy.

Free, Low, Reduced, and Light Foods
The food label “free” means that a food product contains none or only a minor amount of fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, sodium, sugar, and/or calories. For instance, if something is labeled “fat free” it contains no fat or a negligible amount of fat. “Calorie Free” means fewer than 5 calories per serving.

If the food is labeled “low” that means it can be eaten frequently with little risk of going over the dietary guidelines for fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, sodium, and/or calories. More specifically, “low-fat” allows for three grams of fat or fewer per serving; “low saturated fat” means no more than 1 gram of saturated fat per serving; “low sodium” allows for no more than 140 milligrams of sodium per serving; “very low sodium” allows for no more than 35 milligrams of sodium per serving; “low cholesterol” means a food item has no more than 20 milligrams of cholesterol per serving and no more than 2 grams of saturated fat per serving; and “low calories” allows for no more than 40 calories per serving.

If a food is labeled “reduced”, it means that that food has been altered to contain 25 percent less of something such as fat or calories than the unaltered food product. However, a food cannot be labeled “reduced” if the regular version already meets the requirements for a “low” claim.

The term “light” can be the most confusing food label and has several meanings. One meaning is that a nutritionally altered food has one-third fewer calories or half the fat as the regular food product. The condition on this first definition is that if fat supplies 50 percent or more of the calories for the original food product, the fat content must be reduced by half in order to be labeled “light.” A second definition is that the sodium content of a low-fat, low-calorie food has been reduced by 50 percent. If the food item is not low in fat and calories but the sodium has been reduced by 50 percent it can only be labeled “light in sodium.” The third and trickiest way of labeling a food “light” is to describe a food’s color and/or texture. If a food is lighter in color or texture than another version of the food, it can be labeled “light.”

Remember to pay attention to labels claming nutrient content when eating any packaged foods. Just because your package of brown sugar is labeled “light brown sugar” doesn’t mean in is better for you than “dark brown sugar.”


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