If people consumed nothing but fresh food, there would be no
food labels to inspect. But such a diet is not practical. So processed
or prepared foods - from mustard to canned tuna fish - allow us to eat a varied
and healthful diet without spending every waking minute at the stove.
By law, any food that's even minimally processed - like canned
tuna or vegetables - must be labeled. Basic information includes the name of
the food, the ingredients (listed in order according to weight), and the net
weight of the contents (that is, not including the packaging).
If a food carries a nutritional claim like "low-sodium"
or "sugar-free," the label must provide additional, more specific
information. Nutritional information must specify:
- Portion size.
- Number of servings per package.
- Calories per serving.
- Amount of protein, carbohydrates,
and fat per serving (measured in grams).
- Amount of sodium per serving (measured
- Vitamins and minerals supplied,
in percentages of U.S. Recommended Daily Allowances.
Some product labels may indicate the number of milligrams of
cholesterol per serving. This is only required if the label claims the
food is low in cholesterol.
Here are some other frequently used labeling terms and what they
- Low calorie. Applies
to foods containing no more than 40 calories per serving or per 100 grams
(3 1/2 ounces). The label must substantiate this claim.
- Reduced calorie. Can
be used for foods with at least one-third fewer calories than comparable,
nutritionally equivalent foods that are not calorie reduced.
- Dietetic. Can be used
to designate foods intended for special diets, such as sodium-restricted or
reduced-sugar diets (but not necessarily low-calorie diets).
- Sugar-free. Applies
to food using artificial sweeteners.
- Sodium-free. Contains
less than 5 milligrams of sodium per serving.
- Very low sodium. Contains
35 milligrams or less of sodium per serving.
- Low sodium. Contains
140 milligrams or less of sodium per serving.
- Reduced sodium. Applies
to foods that contain 75 percent less sodium than comparable foods that aren't
- Light, lite, leaner, or lower
fat. Must contain 25 percent less fat than comparable, nutritionally
- Lean or low fat. Must
contain less than 10 percent fat.
- Extra lean. Must contain
no more than 5 percent fat.
- 100 percent vegetable oil. Applies to foods that contain no animal fat. This term may be
accurate but misleading. Hydrogenated (or partially hydrogenated) vegetable
oils and tropical oils like coconut oil raise blood cholesterol levels in
much the same way animal fats do.
From "A Year of Health Hints"
by Don R. Powell, Ph.D.