Deciphering Food Labels and Their Meanings

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With today’s new form of advertising, the freedom to make bogus claims, and the mixed messages that commercials send, it may be harder to understand what the label is acutally saying.

Fat and health-conscious Americans may be getting the run-around if they don’t know how to decipher the code. The mystery of labeling. Do you know the difference between “reduced fat” and “low fat”? Or maybe you’re just a little confused and fit right in with the rest of the consumers: you have no idea. After all, who wants to spend their precious time trying to figure out exactly what the label means? Well, here are some definitions to help you. A quick scan ought to clear up a lot of confusion.

• Fat-free means the product has less than 50 grams of fat per serving. Now check the serving size and multiply that by how many servings you eat.

• Whereas Low-fat items have three grams or less, of fat per serving; for example, if the serving size is 30 grams or less; or two tablespoons or less, 50 grams of the food can’t exceed three grams of fat.

• Now here is where most of the confusion reigns. If a product is Reduced fat or Less fat, the food represents at least 25 percent less fat per serving than the standard version of the food or an average of the market leaders.

• If something is Calorie-free, it has less than five calories per serving. On the other hand, Low Calorie foods are forty calories or less per serving, or, in other words, if the serving is 30 grams or less or two tablespoons or less, 50 grams of the food can’t exceed 40 calories.

• For those who think “reduced” calorie foods are diet versions, they may not be as good as you thought. Reduced or Fewer calorie foods have at least 25 percent fewer calories per serving that the standard version of the food or a popular brand name.

And finally, if something is advertised as being Light or Lite, it has one-third fewer calories or half the fat of the standard version of the product or its national market leaders. Notice the terminology is combining calories versus fat. Explained further, it can mean if 50 percent or more of the food’s calories come from fat, the reduction must be 50 percent of the fat.

To prove that label-reading is a knowledge-based concept, understand that the first number you should consult on the “Nutrition Facts” label is the serving size. If you’re going to eat more than the suggested serving size, you need to adjust all the other numbers. For example, most muffins today, and some giant bagels are really two-person serving sizes.

Are you in a hurry, no time to read labels? Let’s face it, we’re all a little squeezed for time, so the easiest way to gauge a food’s fat content is to check to see if the fat calories are <u>more than a third</u> of the total calories; if they are, you might want to choose another item. And if you are trying to eat more healthful foods, understand that the best meals for this will keep saturated fat under seven grams; in addition, you should try to find food with at least two grams of fiber.

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