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Cut Fat! Learn To Read Nutrition Labels

From eDiets - The online diet, fitness, and healthy living resource

Do labels like fat free, low fat, reduced fat, light, more, less, high and low make your head spin like a top as you toss food into your shopping cart? What does it all mean? Which is best? I thought people were confused by how to exercise until I started investigating food labeling. Since we are left to decipher all of these nutrition labels, it’s no wonder Americans are obese.

You're certainly not alone if you're confused. The FDA and the Food Safety and Inspection Service of the USDA issued new regulations on food labels to help consumers make wiser choices and to offer an incentive for food companies to improve the nutritional qualities of their products. Food manufacturers are now required to strictly adhere to regulations about what can and can't be printed on food labels.

It's time to educate yourself! The following new food labeling terms describe the level of a nutrient in food:

Free: A product contains no amount of, or only a trivial amount of, one of the following compounds: fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, sodium, sugars and calories. You may also see free foods labeled "without," "no" and "zero." These are synonyms for "free."

Calorie-Free -- fewer than 5 calories per serving

Sugar-Free -- less than .5 grams per serving

Fat-Free -- less than .5 grams per serving

Choosing "free" foods can be healthful and contribute to a calorie deficit at the end of the day. Unfortunately, "free" many times means taste-free as well. We all know that fat tastes good, and when an item is fat-free it can also be flavor-free.

Low: Foods that can be eaten frequently without exceeding dietary guidelines for one or more of these components: fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, sodium and calories. Synonyms for low include "little," "few" and "low source of." The following describe what is considered "low" for each component.

Low fat -- 3 grams or less per serving

Low saturated fat -- 1 gram or less per serving

Low sodium -- 140 milligrams or less per serving

Very low sodium -- 35 milligrams or less per serving

Low cholesterol -- 20 milligrams or less and 2 grams or less of saturated fat per serving

Low calorie -- 40 calories or less per serving

“Low” foods are healthful and help keep calories down.

Lean and Extra Lean: These terms can be used to describe the fat content of meat, poultry, seafood and game meats.

Lean -- less than 10 grams of fat, 4.5 or less of saturated fat and less than 95 milligrams of cholesterol per serving and per 100 grams

Extra Lean -- less than 5 grams of fat, less than 2 grams of saturated fat and less than 95 milligrams cholesterol per serving and per 100 grams

You should strive to select lean meats compared to higher fat cuts. It may take your taste buds a little adjusting, but it’s better for your health and will help keep calories down.

High: This term can be used if the food contains 20 percent or more of the daily value for a particular nutrient in a serving.

Good Source: These terms mean that one serving of a food contains 10-19 percent of the Daily Value for a particular nutrient. For example, orange juice containers may say "good source of Vitamin C."

Reduced: This term means that a nutritionally altered product contains at least 25 percent less of a nutrient or calories as compared to the regular or reference product. However, a reduced claim cant be made in a product if its reference food already meets the requirement for a low claim.

Less: This term means that a food, whether altered or not, contains 25 percent less of a nutrient or calories as compared to the reference food. For example, pretzels that have 25 percent less fat than potato chips. Fewer is an acceptable synonym for less.

Light: This descriptor can mean two things. A nutritionally altered product contains 1/3 fewer calories or 1/2 the fat of the reference food. If the food derives 50 percent or more of the calories from fat, the reduction must be 50 percent of the fat.

Second, the sodium content of a low-calorie, low-fat food has been reduced by 50 percent. The term light can still be used to describe properties such as texture and color as long as the label explains the intent. For example, light brown sugar.

More: A serving of food contains a nutrient that is at least 10 percent more of the Daily Value than the reference food.

Percent Fat-Free: A product bearing this claim must be a low-fat or fat-free product. The claim must accurately represent the amount of fat present in 100 grams of the food. So, if the box of cookies you are picking up says 95 percent fat-free, it must contain 5 grams of fat per 100 grams.

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