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Do It Yourself Health

Definitions of Nutrient Content Claims

Understanding the many claims made by companies touting products that contain "Low," "Less," "Free," or "Reduced" ingredients can help you make informed decisions on what you put into your body and on the table for your family. These claims, referred to as Nutrient Content Claims, characterize the level of a nutrient in a single serving of the food. These terms, defined by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), ensure that they mean the same thing on every product in which they appear. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition provides these definitions that all food manufacturing companies must adhere to.

"FREE"

An amount of a substance so small that it probably won't have an effect on the body. Synonyms for "Free": "Zero," "No," "Without," "Trivial Source of," and "Negligible Source of," and "Dietary Insignificant Source of."

"LOW"

An amount specifically defined for each term, such as "low-calorie," "low-fat," or "low-sodium." (Note: Currently, the FDA has not defined the term "low-carb.") Synonyms for "Low": "Little," "Few" (for calories), "Contains a Small Amount of," and "Low Source of."

"REDUCED/LESS"

Refers to a food with at least 25 percent less calories, fat, saturated fat, cholesterol or sodium than a comparable food. Synonyms for "Reduced/Less": "Lower" or "Fewer" (for calories).

"HIGH"

Indicates that the product contains 25% or more of the Daily Value for a given nutrient.

"GOOD SOURCE"

Indicates that the product contains 10 to 19% of the Daily Value of the nutrient.

"LIGHT"

Indicates that a food has one-third fewer calories or 50% less fat than the traditional version of the food.

"HEALTHY"

Can only be used on labels for foods that are low in saturated and unsaturated fats and specific levels of cholesterol, sodium and other vitamins and minerals.

REFERENCE AMOUNT

Reference amount customarily consumed per eating occassion.

CALORIES

Free: Less than 5 calories per reference amount and per labeled serving.

Low: 40 calories or less per reference amount.

Reduced/Less: At least 25% fewer calories per reference amount than an appropriate reference food. Reference food may not be "Low Calorie." Uses term "Fewer" rather than "Less."

Light or Lite: If 50% or more of the calories are from fat, the fat must be reduced by at least 50% per reference amount. If less than 50% of calories are from fat, the fat must be reduced at least 50% or calories reduced at least 1/3 per reference amount.

TOTAL FAT

Free: Less than 0.5 grams per reference amount and per labeled serving.

Low: 3 grams or less per reference amount (and per 50 grams if reference amount is small).

Reduced/Less: At least 25% less fat per reference amount than an appropriate reference food. Reference food may not be "Low Fat."

Light: Food must be "Fat Free."

Dietary Supplements: Calorie claims cannot be made for products that are 40 calories or less per serving.

SATURATED FAT

Next to all saturated fat claims, the manufacturer must declare the amount of cholesterol if 2 milligrams or more per reference amount; and the amount of total fat if more than 3 grams per reference amount (or 0.5 grams or more of total fat for "Saturated Fat Free").

Free: Less than 0.5 grams saturated fat and less than 0.5 grams trans fatty acids per reference amount and per labeled serving.

Low: 1 gram or less per reference amount and 15% or less of calories from saturated fat.

Reduced/Less: At least 25% less saturated fat per reference amount than an appropriate reference food. Reference food may not be "Low Saturated Fat."

Dietary Supplements: Saturated fat claims cannot be made for products that are 40 calories or less per serving.

CHOLESTEROL

Cholesterol claims are only allowed when food contains 2 grams or less of saturated fat per reference amount; or for meals and main dish products, claims are only allowed per labeled serving size for "Free" claims or per 100 grams for "Low" and "Reduced/Less" claims. Manufacturers must declare the amount of total fat next to the cholesterol claim when fat exceeds 13 grams per reference amount and labeled serving.

Free: Less than 5 milligrams per reference amount and per labeled serving (or for meals and main dishes, less than 2 milligrams per labeled serving). No ingredient that that contains cholesterol except if the ingredient listed in the ingredient statement has an asterisk that refers to footnote (e.g., "* adds a trivial amount of fat").

Low: 20 milligrams or less per reference amount.

Reduced/Less: At least 25% less cholesterol per reference amount than an appropriate reference food. Reference food may not be "Low Cholesterol."

Dietary Supplements: Cholesterol claims cannot be made for products that are 40 calories or less per serving.

SODIUM

Free: Less than 5 milligrams per reference amount and per labeled serving. No ingredient that is sodium chloride or generally understood to contain sodium except if the ingredient listed in the ingredient statement has an asterisk that refers to footnote (e.g., "* adds a trivial amount of fat").

Low: 140 milligrams or less per reference amount (and per 50 grams if reference amount is small).

Reduced/Less: At least 25% less sodium per reference amount than an appropriate reference food. Reference food may not be "Low Sodium."

Light (for sodium reduced products): If food is "Low Calorie" and "Low Fat" and sodium is reduced by at least 50%.

Light in Sodium: If sodium is reduced by at least 50% per reference amount. Light in Sodium for meals is equivalent to "Low in Sodium."

Very Low Sodium: 35 milligrams or less per reference amount.

Salt Free: Must meet criterion for "Sodium Free."

No Salt Added and Unsalted: Must declare "This is Not A Sodium Free Food" on the information panel if the food is not "Sodium Free."

Lightly Salted: 50% less sodium than normally added to reference food and if not "Low Sodium," it must be so labeled on the information panel.

SUGAR

"No Added Sugars" and "Without Added Sugars" are allowed if no sugar or sugar-containing ingredient is added during processing. Manufacturer must state if the food is not "Low" or "Reduced Calorie." The terms "Unsweetened" and "No Added Sweeteners" remain as factual statements.

Free: Less than 0.5 grams sugars per reference amount and per labeled serving. No ingredient that is a sugar or generally understood to contain sugars except if the ingredient listed in the ingredient statement has an asterisk that refers to footnote (e.g., "* adds a trivial amount of fat"). Must disclose calorie profile (e.g., "Low Calorie").

Low: Not Defined. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not provide a basis for recommended intake.

Reduced/Less: At least 25% less sugars per reference amount than an appropriate reference food. This claim may not be used on dietary supplements of vitamins and minerals.

FIBER

High Fiber: Greater than or equal to 5 grams of fiber per serving and must meet the definition for low fat, or the level of total fat must appear next to the high fiber claim.

Good Source of Fiber: Between 2.5-4.9 grams of fiber per serving.

More or Added Fiber: Greater than or equal to 2.5 grams or more of fiber per serving than reference food.