Quick Guide to Food Label Terms

Reviewed by Wendy Marcason, RDN
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Ever wonder about the difference between "reduced fat" and "low fat"? Or does "calorie free" on a label really mean no calories? The Food and Drug Administration has strict guidelines on how these food label terms can be used.

Here are some of the most common claims seen on food packages and what they mean:

  • Low calorie: 40 calories or less per serving
  • Low cholesterol: 20 milligrams or less and 2 grams or less of saturated fat per serving
  • Reduced: At least 25 percent less of the specified nutrient or calories than the usual product
  • Good source of: Provides at least 10 to 19 percent of the Daily Value of a particular vitamin or nutrient per serving
  • Calorie free: Less than five calories per serving
  • Fat free/sugar free: Less than ½ gram of fat or sugar per serving
  • Low sodium: 140 milligrams or less of sodium per serving
  • High in: Provides 20 percent or more of the Daily Value of a specified nutrient per serving

The FDA also sets standards for health-related claims on food labels to help consumers identify foods that are rich in nutrients and may help to reduce their risk for certain diseases. For example, health claims may highlight the link between calcium and osteoporosis, heart disease and fat or high blood pressure and sodium.

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