What Do Food Labels *Really* Mean? Generics

Now, for some of the more generic terms:

Serving Size. This is the amount of a particular food that the nutrition information is referencing. The USDA sets these numbers, but they can be very misleading if you don't read the labels carefully. While they have gotten better in terms of showing both the English and Metric measurements, the sizes are still smaller than what you might normally eat. Even small containers might only have a 'partial' listing. For instance, the serving size referenced on a 'standard-sized' can of Dr. Pepper is 100 calories per 8-ounce serving. I don't know about you, but I don't make it a habit to only consume two-thirds of a 12-oz can of soda. The actual amount of calories I take in when I drink a can of Dr. Pepper is actually 150 but, if I hadn't read the label carefully, I wouldn't have seen that. Food manufacturers know this, and know it well.

Cholesterol/Sugar/Fat free. Contrary to what most of us think of when we see 'free', these foods do have some of the 'referenced ingredient' in them. It's just that the levels are so low as to be seen as insignificant. For instance, for a food to be labeled 'cholesterol-free', it can have no more that 2 milligrams of cholesterol and 2 grams of saturated fat per serving. For sugar, it's less than half a gram per serving, with the same amount applying to fat.

Low Cholesterol/Sodium/Fat. The product must have less than 20 milligrams of cholesterol, 140 milligrams of sodium or 3 grams of fat to claim to be 'Low [whatever]'.

'Reduced'. This usually means that the amount of whatever ingredient is being referenced is at least 25% less than what the food would have been otherwise.

Lean. Usually less than 10 grams of fat, although a lot of meat products will specify the exact amount of fat on the label.

Light. Exactly what this means depends on the food. If the 'regular version' of a food gets 50% or more of its calories from fat, the 'light' version must have less than half the fat. If the 'regular version' gets less than 50% of the calories from fat, 'light' means that it has been altered so that it contains either less than half the fat or one-third fewer calories.

High in/Excellent source of [x]. This means that a serving contains more than 20% of the recommended daily allowance for whatever nutrient it's referencing. A 'good' source has between 10 and 19%.

Fortified/Enriched/etc. Both labels mean that extra nutrients have been added to a food, but the 'reasons' may be different. “Enriching' is replacing nutrients lost during processing while 'fortifying' is adding nutrients that weren't originally there to make it 'better'. Either way, you win.

Whole-Grain. This is pretty much self-explanatory; the grains used in a particular food have not been 'stripped' and still have the germ, endosperm and bran that occurs naturally. An example would be brown rice as opposed to white rice. For more information, visit http://wholegrainscouncil.org/whole-grains-101/definition-of-whole-grains

Hopefully I've been able to de-code some of the terms commonly used to describe what's in the foods we eat. Remember-read the labels!

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