Food Label 101: What are Nutrient Claims?
By Alyssa Kessel, RDN, LD, Expert Dietitian
Food and nutrition labels are a big source of confusion and frustration for people like you who are trying to eat healthier and make the right choices. As I mentioned in my last blog about how to read food labels, nutrient claims can be used on food packaging to persuade you to buy them over alternative choices. But that doesn’t mean that those claims are valid or healthy.
Today, I’m going to explain what those nutrient claims really mean so you can make an informed decision the next time you’re grocery shopping.
What are “nutrient claims”?
If you’re like my patients, you’ve probably been influenced to pick up a product based on the advertisement on the front. This label is called a nutrient claim because it describes the level of a particular nutrient in that food. An example could be a label that says “low sodium” or “high in fiber”.
The FDA regulates the majority of our food. To protect consumers, they developed a set of guidelines for manufacturers to follow so consumers can understand what is in the food they’re buying. You can read the guidelines by clicking here.
Based on these guidelines, manufacturers typically tend to focus their advertising around 6 main nutrient areas:
Many of my patients ask about calorie claims. The three most common calorie-related nutrient claims – and what they really mean – include:
- Calorie-free – less than 5 calories per serving
- Low-calories – less than 40 calories per serving
- Reduced calories – product has 25% fewer calories than the regular product
A lot of products display claims about sugar, especially if they are related to family-oriented products. The three claims you’ll typically see are:
- Sugar-free – less than ½ gram of sugar per serving
- Reduced sugar – product has at least 25% less sugar than the regular product
- No added sugar – no sugar was added during processing or packaging
Unlike calorie and sugar claims, there are actually 4 claims about fat that manufacturers often make on the front or back of their packages:
- Fat-free – less than ½ gram of fat per serving
- Low-fat – less than 3 grams of fat per serving
- Reduce fat – product has at least 25% fewer grams of fat than the regular product
- Light or light fat – product has at least 50% fewer grams of fat than the regular product
The biggest cholesterol nutrient claim is that a product is “cholesterol-free”. This means that a product has less than 2 milligrams per serving. You could also see these two claims:
- Low-cholesterol – less than 20 milligrams of cholesterol per serving
- Reduced cholesterol – product has at least 25% less cholesterol than the regular product
Sodium (salt) is a huge part of the American diet and is often an area that dietitians focus on reducing with their patients. The 5 most popular claims around sodium content include:
- Sodium-free (salt-free) – less than 5 milligrams of sodium per serving
- Low-sodium (low-salt) – less than 140 milligrams of sodium per serving
- Reduced sodium (reduced salt) – product has at least 25% less sodium than the regular product
- Light sodium or lightly salted – product has at least 50% less sodium than the regular product
- No added sodium (no added salt) – no sodium was added during processing
Manufacturers typically don’t focus on fiber as much as the other nutrients. If there is a fiber content claim, it’s usually described as “high fiber” or “good source of fiber”.
- High fiber – product has more than 5 grams of fiber per serving
- Good source of fiber – product has at least 2.5-5 grams of fiber per serving (about 10-19% of the recommended daily value for fiber)
What about “organic” claims?
As I mentioned above, the FDA regulates the majority of our food. The exceptions to this rule are meat, poultry, eggs, and other organic products. These things are all under the protection and regulation of the USDA.
Anything that says “organic” or “free-range” are going to based off the USDA regulations. I will be covering these regulations and terms in my next blog, so stay tuned to our weight loss blogs.
If you have any questions about these nutrient claims or want to look at the labels of your favorite foods together, please call us at 513-791-9474 or fill out our consultation packet to get started.