What's in a Food Label?

Food packaging labelsĀ can provide a wide range of information to help consumers make good food choices. Food labels and other nutritional information on food packaging can be very confusing and difficult to decipher for the consumer. Here is information about the regulations for the USA, but the information will be relevant for people in most other jurisdictions.

In the US in 1990, the Nutrition labeling and Education Act went into effect. The USDA and the FDA designed the requirements so that consumers would have useful information about the food they eat. But how do you make sense of a food label? According to the Nutrition labeling and Education Act, all food labels must contain the following information:

food label cordial bottle packaging terms

Common Label Terms

Here are the FDA Specifications for Health Claims and Descriptive Terms. The FDA also provides guidelines about the claims and descriptions manufacturers may use to promote their products:

Claim Requirements that must be met before using the claim
Fat-Free Less than 0.5 grams of fat per serving, with no added fat or oil
Low fat 3 grams or less of fat per serving
Less fat 25% or less fat than the comparison food
Saturated Fat Free Less than 0.5 grams of saturated fat and 0.5 grams of trans-fatty acids per serving
Cholesterol-Free Less than 2 mg cholesterol per serving, and 2 grams or less saturated fat per serving
Low Cholesterol 20 mg or less cholesterol per serving and 2 grams or less saturated fat per serving
Reduced Calorie At least 25% fewer calories per serving than the comparison food
Low Calorie 40 calories or less per serving
Extra Lean Less than 5 grams of fat, 2 grams of saturated fat, and 95 mg of cholesterol per (100 gram) serving of meat, poultry or seafood
Lean Less than 10 grams of fat, 4.5 g of saturated fat, and 95 mg of cholesterol per (100 gram) serving of meat, poultry or seafood
Light (fat) 50% or less of the fat than in the comparison food (ex: 50% less fat than our regular cheese)
Light (calories) 1/3 fewer calories than the comparison food
High-Fiber 5 grams or more fiber per serving
Sugar-Free Less than 0.5 grams of sugar per serving
Sodium-Free or Salt-Free Less than 5 mg of sodium per serving
Low Sodium 140 mg or less per serving
Very Low Sodium 35 mg or less per serving
Healthy A food low in fat, saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium, and contains at least 10% of the Daily Values for vitamin A, vitamin C, iron, calcium, protein or fiber.
"High", "Rich in" or "Excellent Source" 20% or more of the Daily Value for a given nutrient per serving
"Less", "Fewer" or "Reduced" At least 25% less of a given nutrient or calories than the comparison food
"Low", "Little", "Few", or "Low Source of" An amount that would allow frequent consumption of the food without exceeding the Daily Value for the nutrient - but can only make the claim as it applies to all similar foods
"Good Source Of", "More", or "Added" The food provides 10% more of the Daily Value for a given nutrient than the comparison food

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