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What do health claims on food labels mean?

Toby Smithson
Nutrition & Dietetics

Health claims are regulated by U.S. Food and Drug Administration and are science based. There are a set of criteria that must be followed in order for a product to make a health claim. Currently there are 17 approved health claims. A health claim may be another tool you will want to use if you are looking for specific products to help manage a condition like osteoporosis or coronary heart disease. Keep in mind if a food has a health claim it doesn’t mean this food will cure a health problem.

Ever wonder what the difference is between fat free, saturated fat free, low fat, reduced and less fat? The government has defined certain claims that can be used on food packaging. For example, you'll see the claim "less sodium" on some brands of chili with beans. This means the product has at least 25% less sodium than the regular version. Some of the popular claims are listed here.

Claims for calories:
  • Calories free: less than 5 calories per serving
  • Low calorie: 40 calories or less per serving
Claims for fat:
  • Fat free: less than 0.5 g (grams) of fat or saturated fat per serving
  • Saturated fat free: less than 0.5 g of saturated fat and less than 0.5 g of trans fatty acids
  • Low fat: 3 g or less of total fat
  • Low saturated fat: 1 g or less of saturated fat
  • Reduced fat or less fat: at least 25% less fat than the regular version
Claims for sodium:
  • Sodium free or salt free: less than 5 mg (milligrams) of sodium per serving
  • Very low sodium: 35 mg of sodium or less
  • Low sodium: 140 mg of sodium or less
  • Reduced sodium or less sodium: at least 25% less sodium than the regular version
Claims for cholesterol:
  • Cholesterol free: less than 2 mg per serving
  • Low cholesterol: 20 mg or less
  • Reduced cholesterol or less cholesterol: at least 25% less cholesterol than the regular version
Claims for sugar:
  • Sugar free: less than 0.5 g of sugar per serving
  • Reduced sugar: at least 25% less sugar per serving than the regular version
Claims for fiber:
  • High fiber: 5 g or more of fiber per serving
  • Good source of fiber: 2.5 g to 4.9 g of fiber per serving

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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.