The Nutrition and Labeling Act of 1990, created a uniform labeling system that includes many foods. Since May 1994, nutritional information has been required on food labels. The Food and Drug Administration’s labeling standards for “nutrition facts” are definitely an improvement over the past lack of information. Unfortunately, these standards set by and overseen by the FDA, can often be very misleading.
This is what some labeling terms really mean.
Low fat: The product can contain up to three grams of fat per 100 grams or per serving.
Fat-free or Non-fat: The product has up to 0.5 grams fat per serving.
“Light” or “Lite”: The product is at least 1/3 lower in calories than the “regular” product.
Low-sugar: The product is at least 1/3 lower in sugar than the “regular” product.
Sugar-free: The product has up to 0.5 grams of sugar per serving.
Calorie-free: The product has up to five calories per serving.
Zero-Carbohydrate: The product has up to 0.5 grams of carbohydrate per serving.
No Sugar Added: The product can contain sugar from its ingredients, but no refined sugar is added.
All Natural: The product contains a minimum amount and number of synthetic ingredients per serving.
Healthy: The product has met no criteria to be labeled “healthy.”
Vitamin Enriched: The product has one or more added vitamins.
Notice that most counts are “per serving.” For example, a serving size of heavy whipping cream is listed at two tablespoons, and that amount has 0.5 grams of carbohydrate. So, the label legally says “zero grams carbohydrate per serving.”
Another example is a popular fruity “diet” drink. An eight-ounce serving contains five calories. A similar brand calls itself “calorie-free.” The ingredients are nearly the same, but the second brand has just under five calories per serving, so the “calorie-free” label is legal.
Serving sizes are supposed to be uniform, and are for more than 150 foods. Some products escape this regulation and nutritional comparison can be difficult. Dry, packaged cereals vary widely when stating serving sizes. In fact, there are still some products that have no nutritional labeling.
When a product label uses percentages of the “minimum daily requirements,” it is important to know that the percentage is based on a 2,000-calorie daily intake.
Because the company producing the product usually provides nutritional information, an independent study and analysis are often performed by an independent agency to ensure accurate labeling. This sometimes results in re-labeling when discrepancies are found.
Tips for reading labels:
Compare similar products and be cautious of wide variations.
Carefully check the serving sizes.
When dubious terms are used, contact the company and request nutritional information.
Beware of misleading terms.
Know that some labeling is intentionally misleading.
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