Food labels are designed to help consumers make food choices based on the nutrients that are most important to good health. In addition to listing nutrient content by weight, the label puts the information in the context of a daily diet of 2000 calories that includes no more than 65 grams of fat (approximately 30% of total calories). For example, if a serving of a particular product has 13 grams of fat, the label will show that the serving represents 20% of the daily fat allowance. If your daily diet contains fewer or more than 2000 calories, you need to adjust these calculations accordingly.
Food labels contain uniform serving sizes. This means that if you look at different brands of salad dressing, for example, you can compare calories and fat content based on the serving amount. (Food label serving sizes may be larger or smaller than MyPyramid serving size equivalents, however.) Regulations also require that foods meet strict definitions if their packaging includes the terms light, low-fat, or high-fiber (see below). Health claims such as “good source of dietary fiber” or “low in saturated fat” on packages are signals that those products can wisely be included in your diet. Overall, the food label is an important tool to help you choose a diet that conforms to MyPyramid and the Dietary Guidelines.
Selected Nutrient Claims and What They Mean
Healthy A food that is low in fat, is low in saturated fat, has no more than 360–480 mg of sodium and 60 mg of cholesterol, and provides 10% or more of the Daily Value for vitamin A, vitamin C, protein, calcium, iron, or dietary fiber.
Light or lite One-third fewer calories or 50% less fat than a similar product.
Reduced or fewer At least 25% less of a nutrient than a similar product; can be applied to fat (“reduced fat”), saturated fat, cholesterol, sodium, and calories.
Extra or added 10% or more of the Daily Value per serving when compared to what a similar product has.
Good source 10–19% of the Daily Value for a particular nutrient per serving.
High, rich in, or excellent source of 20% or more of the Daily Value for a particular nutrient per serving.
Low calorie 40 calories or less per serving.
High fiber 5 g or more of fiber per serving.
Good source of fiber 2.5–4.9 g of fiber per serving.
Fat-free Less than 0.5 g of fat per serving.
Low-fat 3 g of fat or less per serving.
Saturated fat-free Less than 0.5 g of saturated fat and 0.5 g of trans fatty acids per serving.
Low saturated fat 1 g or less of saturated fat per serving and no more than 15% of total calories.
Cholesterol-free Less than 2 mg of cholesterol and 2 g or less of saturated fat per serving.
Low cholesterol 20 mg or less of cholesterol and 2 g or less of saturated fat per serving.
Low sodium 140 mg or less of sodium per serving.
Very low sodium 35 mg or less of sodium per serving.
Lean Cooked seafood, meat, or poultry with less than 10 g of fat, 4.5 g or less of saturated fat, and less than 95 mg of cholesterol per serving.
Extra lean Cooked seafood, meat, or poultry with less than 5 g of fat, 2 g of saturated fat, and 95 mg of cholesterol per serving.
Note: The FDA has not yet defined nutrient claims relating to carbohydrates, so foods labeled low- or reduced-carbohydrate do not conform to any approved standard.