Just because a box of cookies is labeled with the word “skinny” or “healthy” doesn't mean it’s automatically waist-friendly. Both generic and brandname manufacturers are given a shocking amount of leeway when it comes to how they label their packaging. It’s imperative to not only check nutrition labels, but to also decipher what buzzwords actually mean. We asked nutritionist MariaA. Bella, MS, RD, CDN to help us break it down.
When "free" doesn’t mean free
Antibiotic-free and hormone-free: While these words are defined by the USDA, the USDA doesn’t actually regulate them. Only trust it if you see third-party verification with USDA Organic, Certified Naturally Grown, Animal Welfare Approved or Certified Humane.
Calorie-free: Fewerthan 5 caloriesperserving (meaning these foods are not calorie-free!)
Sugar-freeand fat-free: Lessthan0.5gramsperserving (again, they are not free)
The tricky difference between "lean," "light" and "extra-lean"
Lean: Lessthan10 grams of fat, 4.5grams or less of saturated fat and lessthan95 mg of cholesterolperservingandper100 grams
Extra-lean: Lessthan5grams of fat, lessthan2 grams of saturated fat, and lessthan95 mg of cholesterolperservingandper100 grams
Light: May contain one-thirdfewercaloriesthanthe original food; sodium content of a certain food may have been reduced by 50-percent.
One of the most over-used words, know that when you see it on a packaged product it means basically nothing – the FDA has not developed a definition for use of the term beyond that the food must be free of added color, artifical flavors or synthetic substances.
How "low" can you go?
Low-fat: 3 grams or lessperserving
Low saturated fat: 1 gram or lessperserving
Low-sodium: 140 mg or lessperserving
Very low-sodium: 35 mg or lessperserving
Low-cholesterol: 20 mg or less and 2 grams or less of unsaturated fatperserving
Low-calorie: 40caloriesor lessperserving
Reduced: Nutritionally altered product contains at least 25-percent less of a nutrientorcaloriesthanthe regular version of the product.
And how "high"?
Good source: Contains between 10-to-19-percent of the daily value of the certain nutrient
High: Must contain 20-percent or more of the daily value for a particular nutrient in aserving