The Chicagoist will be launching later but in the meantime please enjoy our archives.

Food Labels: Facts Behind the Health Claims

By Megan Tempest in Food on Mar 18, 2010 4:00PM

2010_03_BananaHealthClaims.jpg Health claims like “High in Fiber” and “Low Cholesterol” are more than arbitrary statements made by food manufacturers to persuade customers to buy their product. In fact, as reported by the American Dietetic Association, the Food and Drug Administration has strict guidelines for how health certain claims may be applied to a food label. Here is a list of regulated health claims and what they mean to us. Keep in mind that in order to best interpret these claims, we must know the food’s serving size, rule #1 of label reading.

  • Fat Free / Sugar Free - Contains less than ½ gram of fat or sugar per serving. This also applies to trans fat, which the American Heart Association recommends we eliminate from our diet.
  • Low Cholesterol - Contains less than 20mg of cholesterol and 2 grams or less of saturated fat per serving. Research shows that our intake of saturated fat, more so than cholesterol, contributes to high cholesterol in our blood. Why? Our liver synthesizes cholesterol from saturated fat in our diet. This is why most plant foods are naturally low in cholesterol - plants don’t have livers.
  • Calorie Free - Contains less than 5 calories per serving.
  • Low Calorie - Contains less than 40 calories per serving.
  • Reduced - contains 25% less of the specified nutrient (typically fat or sodium) or calories than the standard version of the product.
  • Good Source of - Provides at least 10% of the Daily Value of a particular vitamin or nutrient in each serving. According to the American Dietetic Association, Daily Values are the average levels of nutrients for a person consuming 2000 calories per day.
  • Low Sodium - Contains less than 140 mg of sodium per serving.
  • High in - Provides 20% or more of the Daily Value for a specific nutrient per serving.
  • High Fiber - contains at least 5 grams of fiber per serving. A healthy goal is to consume 25-30 grams of fiber per day.

Be cautious of terms like “Natural”, “Whole Grain”, and even “Organic”, along with claims like “lowers cholesterol” or “made with real cheddar cheese”, as these are not well-regulated and are usually highly misleading.