Food Labels and The Magnificent Seven
Douglas Andersen, DC, DACBSP, CCN
13, number 21, 10/9/95, page 6
How the FDA defines what the words on food labels really mean.
It has been over a year since
the new food labels have appeared on food packaging. Most of the attention
was focused on the nutrition facts section, which replaced the old nutrition
information label. This month, we are focusing on the descriptive words
used on the front of packaging. To the casual observer, they have not
changed much. However, with the new food labeling guidelines from the
FDA, which number over 1000 pages, the words commonly used to describe
(or hype) food are now defined by our government. Today we will review
these adjectives and what they now "officially" mean. Then,
we will use them to describe what I call The Magnificent Seven; that is,
the seven claims the government allows the food industry to make about
1. Contains, good source,
or provides: Foods that use these words must have between 10 and 19
percent of the daily values of the specific vitamins, minerals, or nutrients
being described per single serving.
2. Excellent source, high, or rich in: When these words are used
to define what is in a food, the substance in question must contain no
less than 20 percent of the daily value per single serving.
3. More: This means that the food being describing exceeds the
normal or standard food daily value of a substance such as a vitamin,
mineral, fiber, protein, or carbohydrate by 10%. In many cases, the substance
being described has been added to the food, resulting in a "fortified
4. Extra lean: Animal meat from any source that uses this term
cannot contain more than 95 mg of cholesterol, 2 gm of saturated fat,
and 5 gm of total fat per 3.5 ounce serving.
5. Lean: Animal foods that use this word cannot contain more than
95 mg of cholesterol, 4 gm of saturated fat, and 10 gm of total fat per
3.5 ounce serving.
6. Light or lite: There are six approved definitions.
A. Can be used to describe the color of the product.
B. Can be used to describe the texture of the product.
C. The food must have one-third fewer calories than the
standard reference product.
D. The food must have 50% less sodium than the reference
E. The food must have 50% less fat than the reference
F. If describing a main course, the food must meet the
low-fat definition for a multiple serving meal.
Finally, whenever light or lite is used, it must be accompanied by what
it is describing, such as light sodium. The only exception to this rule
are foods which have used light traditionally to describe their color,
such as light brown sugar.
7. Free, no, without, or zero: These words may be used when calories,
cholesterol, fat, salt, saturated fat, or sugar are absent or present
in only minute amounts. To further define minute, if a beverage contains
no more than 4 calories, the words "no calories" may be used
on the label. Another example is if a product states it is fat free or
sugar free, it can contain no more than 0.5 gm of fat or sugar per serving.
8. Fewer, less, or reduced: These words can be used if a product contains
25% less calories or 25% less of a substance or nutrient when the product
is compared to the normal standard reference food. For example, a reduced-fat
cookie must contain 25% less fat than the regular product.
9. Low, little, or low source of: These words can be used if there are
no more than 40 calories per serving, or 20 mg of cholesterol per serving,
or 3 gm of fat per serving, or 140 mg of sodium per serving. Low fat can
also be used to describe a main course or entire meal as opposed to the
above description for a single serving of an individual food. To be able
to say a meal is low fat, no more than 30% of the calories can come from
10. Low saturated fat: A low-saturated fat product may not contain more
than 1 gm of saturated fat per serving and no more than 15% of the calories
per serving can come from saturated fat.
11. Very low sodium: When the words very low sodium are used, the product
can contain no more than 35 mg of sodium per serving.
THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN
With the new food labeling and regulation guidelines, our government has
determined that there are seven health benefits manufacturers can place
on the labels of foods (thank goodness there are more than seven benefits
from all foods, or we would be in deep trouble). These seven benefits
1. Calcium and osteoporosis. A food must contain at least 200 mg of calcium
per serving to make the claim that it helps prevent osteoporosis.
2. Cancer and fat. A food must not contain more than 3 gm of fat per serving
to claim it helps prevent some types of cancer. Meat and fish packages
can make this claim if they meet the extra lean guidelines described above.
3. Cancer and fiber. A fruit, grain, or vegetable that has no more than
3 gm of fat per serving and contains at least 10% of the daily value of
fiber can make the claim that consuming it will help prevent some types
4. Cancer and fruits and vegetables. Fruits and vegetables can claim to
reduce some types of cancer if they contain less than 3 gm of fat per
serving and at least 10% (without fortification) of the daily value of
vitamin A, vitamin C, or fiber. Ironically, vitamin A or vitamin C out
of a bottle, which may contain hundreds or even thousands of times the
RDA, cannot make this claim.
5. Heart disease and fiber. Fruits, grains, and vegetables that have no
more than 3 gm of total fat, 1 gm of saturated fat, 20 mg of cholesterol,
and contain at least 0.6 mg of soluble fiber can claim to reduce or help
prevent heart disease.
6. Heart disease, cholesterol, and saturated fat. Food manufacturers can
state a food can help prevent heart disease if it contains no more than
3 gm of total fat, 1 gm of saturated fat, and 20 mg of cholesterol per
serving. Meat and fish can make this claim if they fall under the extra
lean guidelines described above.
7. Hypertension and sodium. Foods that contain less than 140 mg per serving
of sodium can make the claim that their consumption will help prevent
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