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Diet Food Labels: Do You Really Know What You’re Getting?

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“Diet foods” have become somewhat rampant in the market.  With everyone desperate to lose weight, marketers have thrived on using labels and terms to trick the consumer into thinking that their products are “oh-so-healthy”…even when they aren’t.

Did You Know?

Studies show that low-fat labels can lead people to consume more food. They change perception of serving size and decrease guilt.

Diet foods are lower caloric versions of their high-calorie cousins, often made by reducing the sugar and/or fat content.  Reduced sugar foods and beverages are often loaded with highly-processed, chemically-derived sugar substitutes; reduced fat foods usually have a lot of added sugars.  Both options require additives and processing that are best avoided.

A few great examples of these types of foods include: Fat-free and low-fat muffins, reduced-sugar or sugar-free sodas and juices, and even products, such as Snackwells, that tout lower amounts of fat.  Each and every one of these examples trades either fat or sugar for the other.  On the rare occasion that you have something that is BOTH fat-free and sugar-free, you are then dealing with artificial sweeteners and other chemicals to make up for the lack in fat or sugar.

Understanding nutrition labels and the nutrient claims on packaged diet foods will help you to get a better sense for what the label is REALLY telling you.

Term Example What it Really Means
Free
  • Sugar-Free
  • Fat-Free
No amount of or only a minimal amount of the nutrient makes up the food.
Less
  • Less Sugar
  • Less Fat
Nutritionally altered to contain at least 25 percent less of the nutrient or calories than the referenced food.
Light
  • Light Cream Cheese
Contains one-third fewer calories or half the fat of the referenced food.  If the food derives 50 percent or more calories from fat, the reduction must be at least 50 percent or more.
Low
  • Low-Fat
  • Low-Sodium
May be used on foods that can be eaten frequently without exceeding dietary guidelines; amount varies based on nutrient.
Reduced
  • Reduced-Fat
  • Reduced-Sugar
  • Interchangeable with “less”
Nutritionally altered to contain at least 25 percent less of the nutrient or calories than the referenced food. If sugar is reduced, it does not mean that it is sugar-free.

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Posted in Brett's Blog, Nutrition Tagged with: , ,