Food Label Facts

Food Label Facts

Food Label Facts
Food Label Facts

The food label facts are that the use of terms such as low fat and low calorie are now heavily regulated by the government for consistency in meaning. This means manufacturers cannot sell under false pretenses; however, it also means higher costs to consumers. Once upon a time, a manufacturer was honest or went out of business – it truly was that simple. No longer… Now we find ourselves wallowing in a sea of terms and regulations that are next to impossible to keep up on.

Studies show that most people don’t even read food labels. For example, Time Magazine came out with an article back in 2011 about this very topic. See Study: Why People Don’t Read Nutrition Labels.

No surprise; people are busy and just want to eat what they like. Yet, we’re stuck with all the labeling and ever-changing terminology, so following we’ll lay out what the more common labels actually mean. This way, when you see a boast on a package such as “Low fat”, you’ll know just what that means without having to dig out reading glasses to read the fine print.

What the Different Food Label Facts Mean

  • Calorie free: Fewer than 5 calories per serving.
  • Sugar free: Less than 0.5 grams of sugar per serving.
  • Fat free: Less than 0.5 grams of total fat per serving.
  • Low fat: 3 grams or fewer of total fat grams per serving.
  • Low saturated fat: 1 gram or less per serving.
  • Low sodium: Fewer than 140 milligrams per serving.
  • Very low sodium: Fewer than 140 milligrams per serving.
  • Low cholesterol: Fewer than 20 milligrams per serving.
  • Low calorie:40 calories or fewer per serving.
  • Lean: Fewer than 10 grams of fat, 4 grams of saturated fat and 95 milligrams of cholesterol per serving and per 100 grams of meat, poultry, or seafood.
  • Extra lean: Fewer than 5 grams of fat, 2 grams of saturated fat, and 95 milligrams of cholesterol per serving and per 100 grams of meat, poultry, or seafood.
  • High: One serving contains 20 percent of more of the Daily Value for that nutrient.
  • Good source: One serving contains 10 to 19 percent of the Daily Value for that nutrient.
  • Reduced: A nutritionally altered product that contains 25 percent less of a nutrient or calories than the regular product.
  • Less: A food (that may or may not be altered) that contains 25 percent less of a nutrient or calories than the regular product or food.
  • Light: A nutritionally altered product that contains one-third fewer calories or half of the fat of the regular food or product. It can also mean that the sodium content of a low-calorie, low-fat food has been reduced by half.
  • More: One serving contains at least 10 percent more of the Daily Value of a nutrient than the regular food or product.

A few other common terms that might need some explanation are as follows.

    • From concentrate: juices from concentrate should have the same nutritional value as the original juice product. Concentrate means that at some point, much of the water was removed for easier shipping, and water was added back in to reconstitute the original consistency of the juice. (Think frozen orange juice.)
    • Sugar alcohol (or polyols): These naturally occurring sweeteners are often used as sugar substitutes because they provide anywhere from half to one-third the calories of regular sugar. Also, unlike regular sugar, they don’t cause an immediate jump in blood sugar. Some common sugar alcohols are mannitol, sorbitol, xylitol, lactitol, isomalt, maltitol, and hydrogenated starch hydroslysates (HSH). Consuming sugar alcohols in high volumes can cuase abnormal gas, discomfort and diahrrea.
    • Multigrain, whole grain: These terms are not interchangeable. Whole grain means that all parts of the grain kernel – the bran, germ and endosperm – are used in the making of the product. Multigrain, however, means that a food contains more than one type of grain. Whole gran foods – listed as “whole grain,” “whole wheat,” and “whole oats” are the healthier choice.


Most fat-free products contain high amounts of sugar in order to make up for the loss of taste from the fat. On the flip side, low sugar products usually have a higher fat content. Read the food label facts on labels, then choose wisely.


  • Eat Any Sugar Alcohol Lately?”, Yale-New Haven Hospital
  • Katherine Zeratsky, R.D., Nutrition and Healthy Eating Q & A, Mayo Clinic

Nutrition Labels: A Helpful Health Tool

Nutrition Labels: A Helpful Health Tool

Nutrition labels can be a helpful health tool, even if studies show most of us don’t care to bother with them. It can be a total bore to waste time in the grocery store reading those labels. Especially if you’re in a hurry, as so many of us are most of the time.

Is it really going to stop you from buying something you want? Probably not.

So how about this. Find some of your favorite foods in your kitchen right now and read the nutrition labels. Once you have an idea what the data is for your most often purchased items, you won’t have to look at them again.

Serving Size

Learning how to shop and read nutrition labels is important to healthy eating. Most foods now have a Nutrition Facts section on the label. The first items listed on the food label are the serving size and number of servings per container. This information is essential if you are going to follow dietary guidelines designed to promote health.


Nutrition Labels
Nutrition Labels

All of the label information for each of the nutrients listed – calories, fat, saturated fat, sodium, carbohydrate, fiber, sugar and protein, are based on the serving size listed.

Since the food manufacturer determines the serving size, this may not be a recommended amount to eat. It may not even be the amount you would eat. Also, the manufacturer’s serving size listed on the food label is not necessarily the serving size recommended for good health.

You need to know how much of the listed serving size you are eating. If you consume double the serving size listed, then you will need to double all of the nutrient and calorie information. If you consume half the serving size listed, then cut out the nutrient and calorie information in half.

Calories and Nutrients on the Nutrition Labels

Food ratiosNext on the nutrition label is the total number of calories per serving. These calories can come from several sources including carbohydrates, protein, fat, alcohol and sugar. Next listed on the nutrition labels: Calories from fat for each serving.

You can compare these numbers to get an idea of how fat-concentrated the item is. Example: An item with 100 calories per serving and 50 calories from fat gets half of its calories from fat – that is 5-percent! Eating a low-fat diet does not mean you never can eat items that are high in fat. It just means you should balance your total food intake so you do not get more than 30 percent of your daily calories from fat.

Below the calories, you will find information about fat, cholesterol, sodium, carbohydrates and protein. You can keep track of your intake of these items by recording the number of grams or milligrams given for the serving size. The right-hand column tells you the percent of daily value, based on a 2,000-calorie diet. The bottom half of the nutrition facts found on the label contains the recommended amounts of fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, sodium and fiber for promoting health. Compare your usual amount to these recommended amounts. For example, if your lunch sandwich alone has 63 grams of fat and the recommendation is for 65 grams of fat per day, you may run into trouble if you eat this way on a daily basis.

Health Enhancing?

Only foods that meet certain definitions and standards can suggest a health-enhancing effect. Some of the more common terms you might find and the definitions are:

  • Lite: 1/2 less fat or 1/3 fewer calories than the original reference product.
  • Cholesterol free: Less than 2 milligrams of cholesterol per serving and 2 grams or less of saturated fat per serving.
  • Low fat: No more than 3 grams of fat per serving.
  • Reduced fat: At least 25-percent less fat per serving than the original reference food.