It’s relatively easy to control the amounts of fat, cholesterol and sodium when you are cooking your own meals, but when you are buying prepackaged goods things can become quite scary and daunting with all the flashy slogans and healthy promises. But what’s the difference between low-fat and reduced fat? lean and extra lean? Here’s a quick guide for you to be armed and ready!
- Check the serving size and the number of servings per container. In the above example, the serving size is 1 piece and there are 12 servings per container, so eating the whole cake will leave you with 12 times as much calories!! ( so maybe it’s not feasible but you get the idea!)
- All the remaining info on the label is per serving starting with the calories and the calories from fat.
- Try to get the least percentage Daily Value possible from fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol and the least amount of trans fat ( there is no percentage RDA for trans fats). Also from the above example, if you are having a piece of that cake you are practically no longer allowed to have fat in your diet during the whole day.
- Try to aim for the highest percentage in the dietary fiber section.
- Having a percentage Daily Value of 5% or less is low.
- Having a percentage Daily Value of 20 % or more is high. The above piece of cake has way high percentage of saturated fat and low percentage of fiber. If I were you, I’d leave it on the shelf!!
- “Little”, “few”, and “low source of” are all used to mean “low”.
|Phrase||What it means|
|Fat Free||Less than 0.5 grams per serving|
|Low Fat||3 grams or less per serving|
|Reduced Fat||At least 25 percent less fat per serving than the regular version|
|Low saturated fat||1 gram or less per serving|
|Light ( in fat)||Half the fat of the regular version|
|Low cholesterol||20 milligrams or less per serving, and 2 grams or less of saturated fat per serving|
|Low sodium||140 milligrams or less per serving|
|Lean||Less than 10 grams of fat, 4.5 grams or less of saturated fat, and less than 95 milligrams of cholesterol per serving|
|Extra Lean||Less than 5 grams of fat, less than 2 grams of saturated fat, and less than 95 milligrams of cholesterol per serving|
|Calorie free||Less than 5 calories per serving|
|Low calorie||40 calories or less per serving|
|Reduced or less calories||At least 25 percent fewer calories per serving than the regular version|
|Light or lite||Half the fat or a third of the calories of the regular version|
And remember, after checking the label run over the ingredient list. Often times, to compensate for a reduction in fat, sugar or other flavorings are added. The first item on the list weighs the most and so on reaching the last item which weighs the least. Steer clear from these ingredients: hydrogenated vegetable oil or partially hydrogenated vegetable oil (palm, soybean, cottonseed and others), high fructose corn syrup, monosodium glutamate (MSG), artificial colorings and flavors, brominated vegetable oil (BVO- found in many citric-based fruit and soft drinks, banned in Europe, Japan and India but still used elsewhere, linked to thyroid, reproductive and nervous problems). The list is by no means exhaustive but these ingredients are the most used and the most unhealthy.
Nothing beats a healthy home-cooked meal but if you have to resort to processed foods, please check the labels carefully and decide what is good enough for you and your family.
Resources: National Institute of Health, Food and Drug Administration