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Word Games: Decoding Food Labels

Word Games:
Decoding Food Labels



What do they really mean?
Reduced-fat
Light or lite
Low-fat
Percent fat-free, as in "98 percent fat-free"
Fat-free, nonfat, or skim
Sugar-free
Reduced-calorie, low-calorie, or calorie-free
Tricky labels


When it comes to advertising, every word and picture is designed to make you want to buy the product. And you know not to believe everything you see and hear, right? Whether it's gossip in the girls' locker room or headlines about alien babies in those tabloids, you've got to consider the source! The same thing is true of food labels. They can be confusing and misleading. Fat-free, low-calorie, lite. What's a girl to make of these terms when she's trying to find a healthy lunch or snack? back to top

What do they really mean?
To help you separate fact from fiction, the government has defined many of the terms found on food labels. For a product to use one of these standardized terms, the food must deliver on its promises. When you see these terms on the foods you buy at the market, here's what they really mean: back to top

Reduced-fat
This means the food has three-quarters or less of the amount of fat found in the regular version. Say you're buying reduced-fat cheddar cheese. The term reduced-fat in this case doesn't mean the cheddar cheese is a low-fat food. It means that this cheddar has at least one-quarter less fat than regular cheddar cheese. You need to check the label to see how much fat you're getting. back to top

Light or lite
These terms mean any one of the following things:
  • The food has two-thirds of the calories of the regular version.
  • The food has half the fat of the regular version.
  • Both the light and regular versions of the food are low-calorie and low-fat, but the light version has half the sodium (salt) of the regular version. back to top
Low-fat
This means the food has three grams or less fat per serving. back to top

Percent fat-free, as in "98 percent fat-free"
This tells you what percentage of the food's weight comes from ingredients other than fat. It doesn't tell you what percentage of the calories comes from nutrients other than fat. For example, a food can be 98 percent fat-free by weight but get 25 percent of its calories from fat. Companies can use this claim only on foods that are low-fat or fat-free. back to top

Fat-free, nonfat, or skim
These terms mean the food has less than half a gram of fat per serving. back to top

Sugar-free
This means the food has less than half a gram of sugar per serving. back to top

Reduced-calorie, low-calorie, or calorie-free
Reduced-calorie means the food has three-quarters or less of the calories of the regular version. Low-calorie means the food has 40 calories or less per serving. Calorie-free means the food has less than five calories per serving. back to top

Tricky labels
Here's a common label trick to watch out for. A low-fat food is not necessarily a low-calorie food. For example, there may be more calories in a fat-free fig bar than there are in a regular Fig Newton. That's because companies tend to replace the fat with extra carbohydrates. Also, you may be tempted to eat a larger portion of a low-fat or low-calorie food because you may think that it is better for you. But the fat and calories still add up. And you may end up eating more calories and fat than you would have if you'd eaten a smaller portion of the regular version. back to top

 
 
 
Last Modified Date: 12/8/2000
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