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The Truth about Food Claims

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Kelly and Veteran John

Kelly and Veteran John

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

HOUSTON - Have you wondered what it means when a food is labeled as “Low cholesterol” or “Reduced sodium?” What is the difference between “Sugar free” and “No sugar added?”
Food companies often put claims on their products to make them sell better. Fortunately, many of these claims are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Therefore, a product must meet certain standards to have these labels. 

Calories
Calories is the energy provided by food. If you take in more than you need, it is stored by your body as fat.
Calorie free means an item has less than five calories per serving. Low calorie is 40 calories or less per serving. Reduced calories means at least 25 percent fewer calories per serving than a regular product.

Fat 
Fat is stored by your body for extra fuel. Everyone needs some fat, but too much puts a strain on your heart and joints.
Fat free means an item has less than 0.5 grams of fat per serving. Saturated fat free is less than 0.5 grams of saturated fat per serving and the level of trans fats is not more than one percent of total fat. Low fat is three grams of fat or less per serving. Low saturated fat is one gram or less per serving and provides no more than 15 percent of calories from saturated fats. Reduced or less fat is at least 25 percent less fat per serving than the regular product.

Cholesterol
Cholesterol is found in animal products, like meat and whole milk. Eating too much can lead to heart disease.
Cholesterol free means an item contains less than two mg. cholesterol and two grams or less of saturated per serving. Low cholesterol is 20 mg or less of cholesterol and two grams or less of saturated fat per serving. Reduced or less cholesterol is at least 25 percent less cholesterol and two grams or less of saturated fat per serving that the regular product.

Sodium
Sodium is found in salt. Too much sodium can raise blood pressure and cause swelling.
Sodium free means an item contains less than five mg. of sodium per serving.
Low sodium is 140 mg. of sodium or less per serving. Reduced or less sodium is at least 25 percent less sodium per serving than the regular product. Light in sodium or lightly salted is at least 50 percent less sodium per serving than the regular product.

Sugar 
Sugar is used by your body for energy. If you have more than you need, it is stored in your body as fat.
Sugar free means an item has less than 0.5 grams of sugar per serving. No added sugar/without added sugar/no sugar added is when no sugars are added during processing or packing – this includes ingredients that contain sugars such as fruit juices, applesauce, or dried fruit. In addition, processing must not increase the sugar content above the amount naturally present in the ingredients. If the food does not meet the requirements for a low or reduced calorie food, it must also bear the statement that it is not low calorie or calorie reduced food. Reduced sugar is when there is at least 25 percent less sugar per serving than the regular product.

Fiber 
Fiber is the indigestible part of plants found in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Eating plenty of fiber can reduce the risk for heart disease and help with weight loss.
High fiber means an item has five grams of fiber or more per serving. It must also meet the definition for low fat, or have the total fat displayed next to the high fiber claim. Good source of fiber mean 2.5-4.9 grams of fiber per serving. More or added fiber is at least 2.5 grams more fiber per serving than the regular product.

Remember that any claim not listed is not regulated by the FDA. For example, “All Natural” may mean nothing at all!

By Kelly Gaines, MEDVAMC Dietetic Intern