June 10, 2015

Diet Dictionary

By cancerconnect

Smart marketers speak their own nutritional language. Learn how to translate.

Thanks to the 1990 Nutrition Labeling and Education Act, food manufacturers are required to provide a Nutrition Facts label on their products in order to provide consumers with an honest assessment of what the product contains. This is a step in the right direction that can help people make healthy choices…if they actually read the label.

What’s the barrier to reading the label? Well, there are several: it’s usually hidden on the back of the box in small print, and if we don’t understand terms like Percent Daily Value, we’re not likely to reap much information from the label. Often, however, there’s an even bigger barrier—what’s on the front of the box.

Take a stroll down the aisle of any grocery store and you’ll see the health claims prominently displayed on many products: fat free, zero trans fats, all natural, or light. But what do these arbitrary terms really mean? And who decides if a product qualifies?

The FDA regulates the health claims that food manufacturers can make; however, despite this regulation, many of the claims can still be quite misleading. Below, we translate health claims into reality.

Fat-free Contains less than .5 gram of fat per serving, with no added fat or oil This applies to all types of fat, including trans fats, which the American Heart Association recommends we eliminate completely from our diet.
Low fat Contains 3 grams or less of fat per serving The FDA does not regulate serving sizes, so many food companies will reduce their serving size in order to label a food as low fat.
Low calorie Contains less than 40 calories per serving Any type of food can be considered low calorie if it meets this requirement, but that doesn’t automatically make it a healthy choice.
Sugar-free Contains less than .5 gram of sugar per serving Sugar-free products often contain artificial sweeteners, which many consider to be unsafe.
Cholesterol-free Contains less than 2 mg of cholesterol per serving and less than 2 mg of saturated fat per serving
Sodium-free Contains less than 5 mg of sodium per serving
Healthy The food is low in fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, and sodium and contains at least 10% Daily Values for vitamin A, vitamin C, iron, calcium, protein, or fiber These foods can still be quite high in sugar.
Lean Less than 10 grams of fat, 4.5 g of saturated fat, and 95 mg of cholesterol per (100 gram) serving of meat, poultry, or seafood
Light Contains 1/3 fewer calories or 50% less fat than the “original” or comparison food
Less/Fewer/Reduced Contains at least 25% less of a nutrient or calories than the “original” or comparison food This may not mean much because the original product may not be worthy of the comparison. Think of it this way: a grade of A is better than an F…but so is a C.
Good Source Of/More/Added Provides at least 10% more of the Percent Daily Value for a given nutrient than the comparison food
High/Rich In/Excellent Source Provides 20% or more of the Daily Value for a given nutrient per serving
Organic 95% of the ingredients listed were organically grown Organic is not the equivalent of healthy. Organic foods can still be high in fat, sugar, and sodium. Read the label carefully.


The following terms are not FDA-approved, so read the Nutrition Facts label closely to make your own educated assessment:

  • All Natural (Saturated fat is all natural.)
  • Lightly Sweetened
  • Doctor-Recommended
  • Kid-Approved
  • Parent-Tested
  • Strengthens Your Immune System
  • Made with Natural Goodness
  • Made with Whole Grains
  • Made with Real Fruit (Fruit juice concentrate counts as real fruit!)

Tags: Nutritional Know-How