Do you find yourself struggling to decipher the facts on your nutrition labels? Here is a quick run-down of exactly what those terms are, and what they mean for your health.


Food product packaging often makes claims such as, “reduced fat,” “heart healthy,” and “high in calcium.” However, food companies cannot utilize these terms unless it meets the specific (or sometimes not so specific) criteria for that claim. Here are some examples:

  • Healthy: The food is low in fat (especially saturated fat and trans fat, which have been linked to heart disease) and has limited amounts of cholesterol and sodium.
  • Free (for example, sugar-free): The food contains only tiny amounts of fat, saturated fat, sodium, sugar, cholesterol, or calories per serving. The ingredient may exist, just not in a significant quantity when the food is eaten in the suggested serving size.
  • Lean: In terms of beef, poultry, and fish, LEAN means the product has less than 10 grams of fat, fewer than 4 grams of saturated fat, and less than 95 milligrams of cholesterol per serving. EXTRA LEAN meats go even further than that, just be sure to check the sodium content.
  • Reduced (for example, reduced fat): One serving has 25 % less fat, saturated fat, sodium, sugar, cholesterol, or calories per serving than the regular version of the food.
  • Light (or lite): One serving has 50 % less fat or one-third fewer calories than the regular version of the food.
  • High in/Good Source of: means a single serving contains 10 to 19% of the Daily Value for a nutrient.


The listed Calories are calculated based on the total grams of fat, carbohydrates, and protein found in a serving of a particular food. It is important to note that the “percent daily value” of calories given on a label is calculated based on a 2,000 calorie diet, which may differ from your needs.

Total Fat tells you the total amount of fat in a serving of the given product. Saturated and unsaturated fat will always be on the label, as they are unhealthy and should be consumed minimally. Mono and polyunsaturated fats may be listed, but the FDA does not require they be listed as are considered healthy and do not pose potential cardiovascular risk. To determine the amount of healthy fats use this equation: Total – (saturated + trans).

The daily recommended range for calories from fat is 20-35%, with less than 10% of daily intake coming from saturated and trans fats. Diets high in saturated and trans fats increase the risk for cardiovascular disease.

Sodium tells you how many mg of sodium are in a serving of the given product. Diets high in sodium can increase the risk of cardiovascular and kidney disease, particularly among individuals that already have risk factors such as hypertension, chronic kidney disease, diabetes, and/or high cholesterol. For healthy adults, it is recommended that you consume no more than 2500mg of sodium per day. For those with any of the previously mentioned pre-existing risk factors, it is recommended that they consume no more than 2000mg per day.

Cholesterol does not contribute any calories to the diet, but plays many important functions within the body. The human body actually makes it’s own cholesterol and does not need to get any from the diet. Excess cholesterol in the blood stream has been linked with incidence of cardiovascular disease. For these reasons, it is recommended that dietary cholesterol intake be limited to ≤300mg per day.

Carbohydrates are the primary source of calories in the diet. It is recommended that 50-65% of calories come from carbohydrates with the majority of these being complex carbohydrates (starches) and from natural sources such as fruits and vegetables. Getting carbohydrates from whole grains, fruits, and vegetables will help in reaching your daily fiber goal. Although the label does not tell you if you are getting insoluble or soluble fiber, it does tell you total fiber. It is recommended that healthy adults consume 25-35gms of fiber every day.

Sugars” does not necessarily refer to refined sugars. All simple carbohydrates will be included in the grams of sugar reported on the food label. Although refined sugar is a simple carbohydrate, other simple carbohydrates include fruit, honey, agave nectar, and cane sugar.

Protein is necessary in the diet to maintain and build tissues in the body such as muscle, hair, and nails. It is recommended that 10-25% of all calories consumed should come from protein.

You can find more information on healthy diets on the USDA’s website:


Brittany Crim is a registered and licensed dietitian. She has worked in hospitals as both a renal and general dietitian. Brittany has extensive weight management experience, including an internship at the Cooper Institute in Dallas, TX. She has a strong fitness background as well as more than 9 years of experience as a certified personal trainer and has a core belief that the concept of health encompasses all aspects of fitness: in particular physical activity and proper nutrition. She completed her BS in Clinical Nutrition at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. Upon graduation, she went to The University of Alabama to complete her MS in Human Nutrition. While at The University of Alabama, Brittany started the nutrition services department at the University Recreation Center. Her experiences in Alabama involved implementing weight loss programs, individual nutrition counseling, personal training, as well as nutrition consults for various athletic departments. She then continued her education at The University of Texas in Austin where she is currently pursuing her PhD in Health Behavior and Health Education. Brittany took a position at the Fitness Institute of Texas, an organization within the Department of Kinesiology and Health Education at The University of Texas. At the Fitness Institute of Texas, Brittany founded the nutrition program and currently oversees all nutrition operations, including multiple weight loss programs.


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