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Reading Food Labels: What's the Deal?

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Other labels on the foods you eat

Do you often see labels on foods that say things like "fat-free," "reduced calorie," or "light?" These types of labels are often seen on snack and dessert foods such as potato chips and cookies. Here are some useful definitions for you:

  • Fat–free – less than ½ gram of fat per serving
  • Low–fat – 3 grams or less fat per serving
  • Light – 1/3 fewer calories or half the fat of the regular version
  • Reduced – 25 percent less of the nutrient than the regular version
  • Sugar-free – less than ½ gram of sugars per serving
  • Calorie-free – fewer than 5 calories per serving
  • Cholesterol free – less than 2 mg of cholesterol and 2 or fewer grams of saturated fat per serving
  • High-fiber – 5 grams or more per serving, must also meet standard for "low-fat"
  • Good source of calcium – at least 100 mg calcium per serving

It's important to remember that fat-free doesn't mean calorie free. People tend to think they can eat as much as they want of fat-free foods. Even if you cut fat from your diet, but consume more calories than what you use, you will gain weight. Also fat-free or low-fat foods may contain high amounts of added sugars or sodium to make up for the loss of flavor when fat is removed. For example, a fat-free muffin may be just as high in calories as a regular muffin. So, remember, it is important to read your food labels and compare products.

WebMD Public Information from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Reviewed by Cynthia Dennison Haines, MD on April 01, 2006
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