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What do calorie-free and low-calorie food labels mean?

Toby Smithson
Nutrition & Dietetics

A food product labeled low calorie indicates a product with 40 calories or lower. A food product labeled calorie free indicates that item has little to no calories and will not have an effect on your body. Be sure to note the serving size on the label and amount of servings per container so you aren’t misled about a lower calorie food or beverage by splurging and consuming more than you expected.

  • Calorie free means that the product has fewer than 5 calories per serving or another designated amount (make sure to note the size of the serving).
  • Low calorie means 40 calories or less per serving.
  • Light or lite means that the food has one-third less calories, 50% less fat, or 50% less sodium than the food with which it is being compared, usually the full-calorie version of the same food.
  • Less and reduced (as in fat or sugar) mean that the food is at least 25% lower in calories or other ingredients compared with the full-calorie or regular version. When these words are used on a label, the actual percentages must also be included, for example, “50% less salt” or “fat reduced by 25%.”

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.