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Food Label Terms Defined

Find out what food label terms really mean. See more food pyramid pictures.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Q. All of the terms on food labels are so confusing. How do I know what labels really mean?

A. Food label claims are not as straightforward as they may seem. For instance, a food labeled "Sugar Free" actually contains sugar, and foods labeled "Calorie Free" contain calories.

Here's a glossary of food label claims and what they really mean:

"Reduced," as in Reduced Sugar, Reduced Fat, Reduced Calories, Reduced Sodium, et al: Contains at least 25 percent less of the named offender than the regular version.

No Added Sugar: No sugars were added during processing.

Sugar Free: Contains fewer than 0.5 grams per serving.

Low Calorie: Contains 40 or fewer calories per serving.

Calorie Free or No Calories: Contains fewer than 5 calories per serving.

Light or Lite: Contains one-third fewer calories than the regular version, or less than 50 percent fat per serving.

Low Fat: Contains 3 grams or less fat per serving.

Fat Free: Contains fewer than 0.5 grams per serving.

XX% Fat Free: Based on the amount, by weight, of fat in 100 grams of the food. For example, a 100-gram serving of a food that is "97% Fat Free" would contain 3 grams of fat.

Low Cholesterol: Contains 20 mg or less cholesterol and 2 grams or less saturated fat per serving.

Cholesterol Free: Contains fewer than 2 mg of cholesterol and 2 grams or less of saturated fat per serving.

High Fiber: Contains 5 grams or more fiber and 3 grams or less fat per serving.

Good Source of Fiber: Contains 2.5 to 4.9 grams fiber per serving.

More Fiber or Added Fiber: Contains at least 2.5 grams more fiber per serving than the reference food.