Q: My husband and I are trying to eat healthier foods to lose weight but after paying close attention to food labels, I get caught up in terms such as “fat-free” or “reduced sodium.” Can you help me understand what common packaging terms really mean?
A: Nutritional terms can become confusing and sometimes overwhelming if you are first starting out on your weight loss journey, but don’t let them get the best of you. As with everything, practice makes perfect. Once you know what you are looking for and know what a term means, it gets much easier. Use eating as a learning opportunity to read labels. While a whole grocery store of labels may be overwhelming, take time at your meal to narrow it down and read just a few.
Most terms apply to nutrients that have a daily value, which is listed on the food label. This is the basis for the original product. Listed is a “beginner’s guide” to common labeling terms.
“Reduced sodium” does not necessarily mean the product is low in sodium and healthy to eat. It means the food has 25 percent less sodium than the original, comparison food. The same concept applies with reduced calories or reduced fat.
“No Salt Added”: The product must contain less than 5 milligrams of sodium per serving.
“Low Fat”: The product must contain three grams of fat or less per serving.
“Fat-Free”: The product must contain less than a half gram of fat per serving with no added fat or oil.
“Trans-fat Free”: The product must have less than half a gram of trans-fat and saturated fat combined.
“Natural” is not a strictly regulated term, but generally refers to foods with a minimal amount of processing and which don’t contain artificial sweeteners, colors, flavors, antibiotics or growth hormone.