Southern Illinois University Carbondale

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Tricky Labeling Decoded

Imagine walking into a grocery store. Everywhere you look, bright packages are claiming that they’re the next superfood or that they’ll help you lose ten pounds. Unfortunately, most of these claims are bogus. Many food labeling laws are in effect and can help you if you know how to use them. Read up on these health claims that are controlled by the Food and Drug Administration.

Health Claim Health Claim Decoded
Low calorie Less than 40 calories per serving
Calorie free Less than 5 calories per serving
Reduced (“fat,” “sodium,” etc.) 25% less of specified item
Fat free Less than 1/2 gram of fat per serving
Sugar free Less than 1/2 gram of sugar per serving
High in… Gives you 20% or more of the Daily Value of nutrient

As you can see, many of these claims do not necessarily make the product guilt-free. Let’s look at it with an example. Your favorite cookie-filled ice cream normally has 20 grams of fat in it. Because you’re watching your weight, you decide that you should try to cut back on fat and buy the reduced fat version instead. After all, if it’s reduced fat it must be good for you, right? If you didn’t look at the nutrition label before digging in, you may not have noticed that the ice cream still has a whopping 15 grams of fat in it! Just because the product is “reduced fat” doesn’t mean that it’s healthy. If the product started out with a lot of fat (much like your cookie-filled ice cream), then you’re simply consuming less fat but not eating an all-around healthy product.

The moral of your cookie story is this: When in doubt, check the nutrition label out! The health claims decoded above should help you to know what these claims mean, but you should still read labels. The nutrition fact label located on every product will allow you to see for yourself exactly what the food contains; if you don’t like the numbers you see, don’t buy it! It’s okay to study different brands’ nutrition labels to find the choice that best fits your dietary needs. If you know that you should eat a heart healthy diet, look for foods with reduced sodium and then check labels to be sure it meets your needs. Following a diabetic diet? Sugar free is sure to contain less than 1/2 gram of sugar!

If you use these claims as background knowledge to check the nutrition facts, you’ll be sure to find products that fit your diet goals!

Be happy; be healthy,

Your University Housing Nutrition Team
Residence Hall Dining

Emily Feagans
Dietetics Graduate Assistant

Cecily Haase
Undergraduate Nutrition Intern