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

  • Cholesterol free means that the food must contain fewer than 2 milligrams of cholesterol and 2 grams or less of saturated fat per serving. For example, although vegetable oils contain no cholesterol, they are 100% fat. Vegetable oils are still preferable to butter or lard because they have less saturated fat. But a tablespoon of vegetable oil still has about 14 grams of fat and the same 126 calories found in a tablespoon of butter or cream.
  • Low cholesterol indicates that a given serving contains 20 milligrams or less of cholesterol and 2 grams or less of saturated fat per serving.
Laura Motosko, MSEd, RD
Nutrition & Dietetics

The USDA requires by law that a low-cholesterol label on food has less than 20 mg of cholesterol or 2 grams or less of saturated fat per serving. A cholesterol-free food will have no cholesterol in it. Cholesterol-free can be a marketing tool used frequently to promote purchase. Cholesterol is only contained in animal products. Saturated fat added to processed and packaged foods and found in high fat animal products, and oils is considered to be even more important to limit than dietary cholesterol in your diet to reduce the bad or LDL cholesterol in your body for heart health. Maintaining a healthy weight or weight loss if you are overweight is essential to promote healthy blood lipid otherwise referred to as fat or cholesterol levels in your body.

Deborah Beauvais
Nutrition & Dietetics
Cholesterol is a fatlike substance produced in your liver, it is found in everyone's bloodstream. As part of every body cell, it's essential to human health and cell-building. There's no Recommended Dietary Allowance for consuming enough cholesterol because your body makes it, too.

Cholesterol terms to understand:

Low cholesterol indicates that a given serving contains 20 milligrams or less of cholesterol and 2 grams or less of saturated fat per serving.

Cholesterol free means that the food must contain fewer than 2 milligrams of cholesterol and 2 grams or less of saturated fat per serving.

Please realize that a food claiming to be low in cholesterol or cholesterol free does not mean the food is fat free. Vegetable oils contain no cholesterol, but they are 100% fat.

The terms fat and cholesterol or not interchangeable.

For more information visit a registered dietitian or visit www.eatright.org the website of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

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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.