Nutrient Content Claims

Nutrient Content Claims

Nutrient content claims are statements on food packages that describe the amount of a nutrient or ingredient in the food. These claims use words like low, high, free, excellent source, or light. The levels of the nutrient or ingredient in a serving of the food is compared against the recommended dietary allowances (determined by the Food an Drug Administration). This way, we aren’t comparing donuts to cakes and seeing which is “low” in sugar!

While you’re out shopping, you’ll probably notice these types of claims all over food packages. They’re there to make you believe that the food is healthy, and therefore get you to buy it. Ultimately, they’re a marketing technique – but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re all deceitful. You can use these guidelines if you’re trying to keep your sodium or sugar low, or increase your fiber intake. Use them to your advantage to make smart choices about what you buy. Hey, you could even print this page out and use it as a cheat-sheet while you shop (along with your free guide to shopping seasonally!) to make sure you’re making the best choices for your family!

Nutrient Content Claims

Each nutrient has it’s own parameters to meet the needs of being “light,” “low,” “high,” etc. Remember, these claims and amounts are usually based on one serving size, and packages can have multiple servings! To get the serving size (and much more information beyond these nutrient content claims), learn how to read a nutrition facts label! The claims on the fronts of packages are great, but ultimately, you’ll be getting the bulk of your information from the nutrition facts label on the back or side of the package.

By the way, if you’re just starting out and are looking for what each of these nutrients are, head on over to Nutrition in a Nutshell! You’ll get all the information you need (and more!)

I’ll break these down by nutrient, since they’re each a little different, and oftentimes shoppers are watching just one or a handful of nutrients. These are the guidelines for each that must be met in order for the food package to have this claim on it.


“Light” – very tricky! This could refer to the amount of a nutrient, but it could also refer to the color or texture of the product. Yes, really. When in doubt, check the nutrition facts label.

“Reduced/Added/Extra/Plus/Fortified/Enriched” – indicates that this product was compared to another similar product, competitor, or original version. ALSO, 10% or more of the recommended daily value per serving than an appropriate reference food.

“More/Less/Fewer” – indicates that this product was compared to another similar product, competitor, or original version, but can also be compared with dissimilar foods in the same category (such as pretzels vs potato chips)

“High/Rich in/Excellent Source of” – contains 20% or more of the recommended daily value per serving.

“Good Source of/Contains/Provides” – contains 10-19% of the recommended daily value per serving.

“Healthy” – must meet requirements for “low fat”. “low saturated fat”, have less than 480 mg sodium, and must contain at least 10% of the recommended daily value of Vitamin A, Vitamin C, calcium, iron, protein, OR fiber. Notice, the term healthy has no indication of sugar content, type of fat, or multiple vitamins or minerals.

Calories

“Free” – less than 5 calories per serving.

“Low” – less than 40 calories per serving. For meals and main dishes, less than 120 calories per 100g.

“Reduced/Less” – at least 25% fewer calories per serving, compared to a reference food.

“Light/Lite” – at least 25% fewer calories than the original product. (If more than 50% of calories are from fat, fat must be reduced by at least 50% compared to original product. If less than 50% of calories are from fat, fat must be reduced by at least 50% OR calories reduced by 1/3 compared to original product.)

Fat

“Lean” – less than 10 g total fat, 4.5 g or less saturated fat, and less than 95 mg cholesterol per serving.

“Extra lean” – less than 5 g total fat, less than 2 g saturated fat, and less than 95 mg cholesterol per serving.

Total Fat

“Free” – less than 0.5 g per serving.

“Low” – 3 g or less per serving. For meals and main dishes, not more than 30% of calories from fat.

“Reduced/Less” – at least 25% fewer calories per serving, compared to a reference food.

“___% Fat Free” – must meet parameters for “Low Fat”, except “100% Fat Free” must meet requirements for “Fat Free” (I know that’s redundant!)

Saturated Fat

“Free” – less than 0.5 g saturated fat AND less than 0.5 g trans fat per serving.

“Low” – 1 g or less per serving and 15% or less of calories from saturated fat.

“Reduced/Less” – at least 25% less saturated fat per serving, compared to a reference food.

Cholesterol

“Free” – less than 2 mg per serving.

“Low” – 20 mg or less per serving.

“Reduced/Less” – at least 25% less cholesterol per serving, compared to a reference food.

Sodium/Salt

“Free” – less than 5 mg per serving.

“Very Low” – less than 35 mg per serving.

“Low” – 140 mg or less per serving.

“Reduced/Less” – at least 25% less sodium per serving, compared to a reference food.

“Light” – Sodium reduced by at least 50% per serving, compared to a reference food.

“Unsalted”, “No Salt Added” – Doesn’t necessarily mean sodium free! Must declare “This is not a sodium free food” if food is not sodium free!

“Lightly Salted” – 50% less sodium than normally added, compared to a reference food. Not necessarily low sodium! Check those nutrition facts labels 🙂

Sugar

“Free” – less than 0.5 g per serving

“Low” – not defined, not to be used!

“Reduced/Less” – at least 25% less sugar per serving, compared to a reference food.

“No sugar added”, “Without added sugars”, “Unsweetened” – only allowed if sugars are not added during processing. Does not indicate sugar free! Does not refer to sugar alcohols, which may be present.


So, that’s a ton of information. I know that. I don’t have these memorized, and I don’t expect you to, either. I remember a few of them, sure, and can confidently reach for something labeled “Reduced” next to the original product. Just knowing the some general ideas such as:

  • “Free” doesn’t necessarily mean zero!
  • “Reduced/Less” means there was a comparison done to another product.
  • “Light” can mean light in a nutrient, or light in color or texture. Seriously.
  • “Healthy” follows certain parameters, mostly revolving around fat.

Ultimately, read the nutrition facts label!

It will give you so much more information than these nutrition content claims on the front of the package. Utilize the claims to quickly comparison shop (fat free milk vs low fat milk vs reduced fat milk…see? Easy!), but if you’re unsure or are more closely looking at calories or another nutrient, flip that package over!

Hungry for more?

Check out these related articles to be in-the-know on nutrition, and shop smarter!

How to Read a Nutrition Facts Label

Shopping Seasonally

Nutrition in a Nutshell

How to Start Meal Planning

 


Reference: Food Labeling Guide, 2008. FDA.gov
https://www.fda.gov/downloads/Food/GuidanceRegulation/UCM265446.pdf

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