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Deciphering Food Label Lingo

Learn why you should make a habit of reading food labels.

Deciphering Food Label Lingo

Changes in the laws governing the nutrition facts and figures on food labels and health claims concerning food make the information on food packages consistent and more well defined than ever. The Nutrition Facts Panel takes on a modified form when it appears on foods intended for young children. Here's how the labels differ:

  • Infant food labels do not list calories from fat, saturated fat, or cholesterol content. This is done to avoid focusing on these nutrients as ones to control in a child's diet. During the first two years of life, babies require fat and cholesterol to fuel their growth and for brain development. There is hardly ever a medical reason for limiting these nutrients.
  • Serving sizes are based on average amounts that children eat at any given time.
  • The Daily Value (DV) provides information about how a serving of that food fits into a reference diet. The Nutrition Facts Panel on foods intended for children excludes % DV for fat, cholesterol, sodium, potassium, carbohydrate, and fiber because there are no established DV for these nutrients in children under the age of four.
  • Manufacturers are not allowed to make health claims about the benefits of foods intended for young children.
Labeling Speak

This term... Means that...

Calorie Free The product contains fewer than 5 calories per serving.
Low Calorie Each serving supplies 40 or fewer calories.
Light or Lite The food contains a third fewer calories or 50 percent less fat. If the food derives more than half its calories from fat, then its fat level must by reduced by 50 percent or more to make this claim.
Light in Sodium It has half the sodium of its counterparts.
Fat Free The product contains a half-gram of fat per serving, or even less.
Low Fat You won't get any more than 3 grams of fat per suggested portion.
Low Saturated Fat One gram or less per portion is saturated fat.
Cholesterol Free This product serves up 20 milligrams or less cholesterol and 2 grams saturated fat, or less.
Sodium Free A serving provides fewer than 5 milligrams of sodium.
Very Low Sodium A portion contains 35 milligrams or less of sodium.
High Fiber A portion of this food serves up at least 5 grams of dietary fiber.
Sugar Free Less than half a gram of sugar per serving.
High, Rich In, or Excellent Source Of One serving supplies at least 20 percent of the DV for a certain nutrient.
Good Source A portion provides at least 10 percent of the DV for a certain nutrient.

What's It All About?
Food labels are full of useful information. Here's how to get more out of them.

  • % DV. These figures provide a basis for determining how a serving of a certain food fits into your daily requirements for selected nutrients, and, ultimately, whether it's worth eating. For instance, an 8-ounce glass of milk supplies 30 percent of the DV for calcium, which happens to be 1,000 milligrams. That means eight ounces of milk provides 300 milligrams of calcium, a considerable bang for the buck. The % DV is the best estimate of how a serving of processed food helps satisfy daily nutrient needs.
  • Health claims. A health claim makes reference to the potential benefits of that particular food, or of a nutrient found in it. Example: Eating high-fiber grain products may help prevent some cancers. Health claims are typically positioned on the front of food packages.
Look for These Terms on Packaged Meat, Poultry, and Seafood

This term... Means that...

Lean In a 3-ounce portion, there are less than 10 grams of total fat, fewer than 4.5 grams saturated fat, and no more than 95 milligrams cholesterol.
Extra Lean This food contains less than 5 grams of total fat and fewer than 2 grams of saturated fat, and no more than 95 milligrams cholesterol per three ounces.

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