‘Eat smart, stay healthy’—National Nutrition Month

“It’s on the label, but what does it mean?”

Who can make sense of today’s food labels? Everything says “free,” “low fat,” “fewer calories,” etc. How many of these claims are for real? And, how can you tell? One of the most confusing terms used is “free.” The implication is that when coupled with fat, sugar, calories or sodium, free means “lack of.” You would think so, but not true. Here’s a primer of FDA definitions to help you navigate through the grocery store and “Eat Smart and Stay Healthy.”

• Cholesterol free: less than 2 milligrams of cholesterol and 2 grams or less saturated fat per serving.

• Fat free or sugar free: less than 0.5 grams fat or sugar per serving.

• Calorie free: less than 5 calories per serving.

• Low-calorie: 40 calories or less per serving.

• Reduced fat, reduced calorie: at least 25 percent less fat or calories per serving than the usual product.

• Low-sodium: less than 140 milligrams of sodium per serving of most foods; and 140 milligrams or less sodium per 100 grams of complete meals such as frozen dinners.

• Low-cholesterol: 20 milligrams or less cholesterol and 2 grams or less saturated fat per serving.

• Low fat: less than 3 grams of fat per serving.

• No added sugar or no sugar added: means that no sugars were added in processing or packing, but doesn’t mean sugar free.

• Light: contains 1/3 fewer calories or 1/2 of the fat of the usual food (a light food that has most of its calories from fat must reduce fat by at least half).

• Healthy: foods labeled healthy are low in fat and saturated fat and have limited sodium and cholesterol. This claim of “healthy” does not apply when used as part of the brand name of the food.

In addition to claims about the nutritional content of foods, health claims may appear on the front label of packaged foods. These claims, which are strictly regulated by the government, may help you identify foods that fit into a particular diet. The concept is that health claims should show a relationship between a nutrient and other substances in a food and a disease or health-related condition. These claims differ from the claims discussed above that highlight a food’s nutritional content and do not deal with disease risk reduction. Here are just a few of the FDA-authorized health claims:

• A calcium-rich diet may help prevent osteoporosis.

• Limiting the amount of sodium you eat may help prevent hypertension.

• Limiting the amount of saturated fat and cholesterol you eat may help prevent heart disease.

• Eating fruits, vegetables and grain products that contain fiber may help prevent heart disease.

To “Eat Smart and Stay Healthy,” take advantage of the information on the label and eat a variety of foods in moderation.

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