As you take a stroll down the grocery store aisles, you probably have noticed the hundreds of different products staring you in the face, promising they are:
- “Better for you!"
- "Now with less ____!"
- "Now has more ____!"
- "Good source of______.”
Sure, they sound convincing but what do these enticing claims really mean? How do you know what you are buying is in fact a healthier or better option?
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates the labels that you find on essentially all food and drinks except for meat, poultry, and eggs. Some may scoff at the idea of the government regulating our food labels, but in this case, at least, it is actually a good thing. This is because the FDA requires foods to meet certain benchmarks in regards to nutrition, production, or ingredients before they can use a certain label claim. This prevents food manufacturers from slapping on label claims they can’t back up just to make a sale. It also means that you can trust the food you eat is what the label actually says it is.
Although food labels provide great information, the missing (and really the most important) piece of this story for most Americans is understanding what these terms actually mean. Read on to find out.
Common Food Product Label Terms
Means a serving contains at least 10% or more of the Daily Value of a nutrient than a serving of the reference product. For example, if we added fiber to our Honey Whole Wheat recipe we would compare the fiber content of the new product to the original product’s nutrition info to determine if it was 10% more fiber.
Means that a serving of a nutritionally-altered product contains at least 25% less of a nutrient (for example, sodium) than a serving of the original product. Synonym: Lower.
Means that a serving of a nutritionally-altered product contains at least 50% less fat or 1/3 fewer calories than a serving of the original product. The term “light” cannot be used if the original product is already a low calorie item.
Means the food meets the requirements to be low in fat and saturated fat, contains 480 mg or less sodium, 60 mg or less cholesterol per serving, and provides at least 10% of the Daily Value per serving for at least one of the following nutrients: Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Calcium, Iron, Protein, or Fiber.
Means a serving contains at least 10-19% of the Daily Value of a certain nutrient.
Means a serving contains 20% or more of the Daily Value for a certain nutrient. Synonyms for this term include ‘excellent source’ and ‘rich in.’
40 calories or less per serving.
3 grams or less fat per serving.
Low Saturated Fat:
1 gram or less saturated fat per serving and not more than 15% of calories from saturated fat.
20 mg or less cholesterol and 2 g or less saturated fat per serving.
Very Low Sodium:
35 mg or less sodium per serving.
140 mg or less sodium per serving.
Leverage Label Information to Make Smart Choices
The next time you're in the grocery store, don't ignore food package claims, or interpret them all equally. Instead, empower yourself by reading the labels and understanding which marketing claims actually translate to healthy choices for you and your family.
If making smart food choices is important to you, you may want to read related blog posts, including:
- Whole & Real Food vs. Processed Food
- How to Tell if a Product is Whole Grain
- Whole Grain Breads Are Full of Nutrition, Not Marketing
In the meantime, take a look at our whole grains guide:
James Palisand via Creative Commons license
USDA.gov via Creative Commons license