Food Labels: What Do They Really Mean?

It’s important to be cautious and scrutinize any health claims that you read on food labels.  Understanding claims that product manufacturers use can help you to make smarter food choices.

Light / Lite: this claim does not necessarily mean a healthy or low fat choice.  These terms may refer to being light in colour, flavour, texture, taste or fat content of the food.  For example, ‘light’ crisps may contain just as much fat as a standard crisp. The nutrition information panel will reveal whether the product really is low in fat – compare the fat content per 100g with similar products.

Low Fat: this means that the product must contain less than 3g of fat per 100g.  Be aware though that these products are often high in sugar or salt so look at all the nutrient information on the label.

90% Fat Free: this means that the product has 10 grams of fat in every 100 grams.  Be aware that many low-fat products have added salt or sugar.  To be able to label a product as ‘fat-free’ the food must have 0.15g or less of fat per 100g.

Reduced Fat: products with this claim mean that they have less fat compared to the manufacturer’s regular product of that type.  Check the nutrition information panel to determine the level of fat.  For example, reduced fat cheeses may still contain as much as 25% fat.

No Added Sugar / Sugar Free: ‘No Added Sugar’ means that this food has no added refined sugars but it may still be high in natural sugar.  Some products such as fruit juice contain high amounts of natural sugars.  This claim does not necessarily mean that the product is lower in energy (kilojoules) than a product with added sugar.

Cholesterol Free: only food products derived from animals may contain cholesterol.  Products claiming to be cholesterol free may not contain cholesterol, but they may still be high in saturated fats, which can contribute to high blood cholesterol.

No Added Salt: this product will have no ‘added’ salt but it may still be naturally high in sodium so check the label if you are concerned about your salt intake.

Salt Reduced: this means that the food has 25% less salt than a similar reference product. Once again, check the label carefully as the food may still be high in salt.  To be labeled as ‘Low Salt‘ or ‘Low Sodium‘ the food must have less than 120mg sodium per 100g.

High Fibre: foods with this claim must have more than 3g of fibre per 100g.