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Understanding food labels

June 10, 2008 - 7:30am
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Understanding food labels

Grocery stores are packed with aisle after aisle of different types and brands of foods. The food label can help you to make sense of how to choose healthy foods. Here are some tips on how to use the food label to choose foods low in saturated fat and cholesterol:

  • Free
    This claim means that a food contains no amount (or a very small amount) of these nutrients: fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, sodium, sugar, and calories.
    • Calorie-free means fewer than 5 calories per serving.
    • Fat-free means less than 0.5 grams of fat per serving.
  • Low
    This claim can be used on all foods that can be eaten often without going over the limit for one or more of these nutrients: saturated fat, cholesterol, fat, sodium, and calories.
    • Low-saturated fat: 1 gram or less per serving.
    • Low-fat: 3 grams or less per serving.
    • Low-cholesterol: 20 milligrams or less and 2 grams or less saturated fat per serving.
    • Low-sodium: 140 milligrams or less per serving.
    • Low-calorie: 40 calories or less per serving.
    Other words that mean "low," include: "little," "few," and "low source of."

  • Lean and extra lean
    These claims can be used to describe the saturated fat and fat content of meat, poultry, seafood and game meats.
    • Lean: less than 10 grams of fat and 4.5 grams or less of saturated fat, and less than 95 milligrams of cholesterol per serving.
    • Extra lean: less than 5 grams of fat, less than 2 grams saturated fat, and less than 95 milligrams of cholesterol per serving.

Watching your serving size is still important. Just because something is "reduced fat" or "lighter" in calories, does not mean than you can eat more of it. Choosing foods lower in saturated fat and cholesterol will help you to lower your blood cholesterol. By eating a larger portion of a food low in saturated fat, you may eat more or just as much saturated fat and fat as the regular variety.


The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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