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Healthy Living 101: Understanding Nutrient Content Claims

Jul 21, 2014

Low fat, reduced sodium, and trans fat free are all nutrient claims that you may see describe some of the food products you purchase. While these claims are regulated by the FDA to ensure that they are consistent among all food products, they don't always mean what you might think and often cause confusion amongst consumers.

It is important to understand what these claims mean and compare them to the food label on the product. If you don't know how to read a food label, learn how here.

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Calories
Calorie Free: Less than 5 calories per serving.
Low Calorie: 40 calories or less. For meals and main dishes, 120 calories or less per 100g.
Reduced/Less Calorie: At least 25% fewer calories than original reference food. Beware that whenever you see "Reduced" or "Less," this is does not necessarily mean it is a health food; it is just less than the original/reference food product.
Fat
Fat Free: Less than 0.5g per serving. If a serving is very small and you eat several servings, the fat amounts will add up. Just because something is low in fat, it does not mean that you can eat unlimited amounts. Keep in mind that calories are important, too. Some fat-free foods can be high in calories.
Low Fat: 3g or less per serving, or no more than 30% of calories from fat.
Reduced Fat: At least 25% less fat than the reference food. The word "reduced" does not mean it is healthy; keep in mind that this means it contains less fat than a referenced food.
Saturated Fat / Trans Fat
Saturated Fat Free: Less than 0.5g per serving. To identify trans fats that may be hiding in a "trans fat-free" food, look on the ingredients label for the word "hydrogenated." This means the food has trans fats. Instead of using this food, try to find a comparable alternative without hydrogenated oils in it.
Low in Saturated Fat: 1g or less per serving and 15% or less of calories from saturated fat.
Reduced Saturated Fat: At least 25% less saturated fat per serving than a referenced food.
Cholesterol
Cholesterol Free: Less than 2mg per serving.
Low Cholesterol: 20 mg or less per serving.
Reduced Cholesterol: At least 25% less cholesterol per serving than a referenced food.
Sodium
Sodium Free: Less than 5mg per serving.
Low Sodium: 140 mg or less per serving.
Very Low Sodium: 35 mg or less per serving.
Reduced Sodium: At least 25% less per serving than a referenced food.
Sugar
Sugar Free: Less than 0.5g per serving.
Low Sugar: There is no definition for this claim and may not be used by food companies.
Reduced Sugar: At least 25% less sugar per serving than a referenced food.
No Added Sugars or Without Added Sugars: No sugar or sugar-containing ingredient is added during processing.
Other Claims
High, Rich In, Excellent Source of: Contains 20% or more of the daily value per serving.
Good Source of, Contains, or Provides: 10-19% of the daily value per serving.
More, Fortified, Enriched, Added, or Extra: 10% or more, per serving, of the daily value for vitamins, minerals, protein, fiber and/or potassium.
Lean: Seafood or meat products that contain less than 10g total fat, 4.5g or less of saturated fat and less than 95mg cholesterol per serving.
Extra Lean: Seafood or meat products that contain less than 5g total fat, less than 2g saturated fat and less than 95mg cholesterol.

Mandy Seay is a bilingual registered and licensed dietitian who holds both a bachelor's degree in nutrition and in journalism. After gaining 30 pounds while living abroad, Mandy worked to lose the weight and regain her health. It was here that she discovered her passion for nutrition and went on to pursue a career as a dietitian. Mandy currently works as a nutrition consultant and freelance writer in Austin, Texas, where she specializes in diabetes, weight management and general and preventive nutrition. She recently published her first book, Your Best Health, a personalized program to losing weight and gaining a healthy lifestyle. Please visit Mandy's website at Nutritionistics.com.

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