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Look Out for These Words on Food LabelsLook Out for These Words on Food Labels


Look Out for These Words on Food Labels


This term has yet to be fully defined and often goes unregulated. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration states that it has not developed a definition for the term, but it does not object to it being used for foods that do not contain artificial flavors, added color, or synthetic substances. While consumers may like to believe that "natural" means the product is less processed, this may not always be the case. Don't assume "natural" means healthy. Be sure to look past this term and analyze nutrition labels and ingredient lists.

"Low Sugar" or "Sugar Free"

Eating less sugar can improve health and promote weight loss, but when a product says it is "low sugar" or "sugar free," check the ingredient label closely. This often means that the sugar was replaced with something else, usually an artificial sweetener. Some research has linked the intake of artificial sweeteners to weight gain. As researchers continue to investigate the topic, it may be best to limit both added sugars and artificial sweeteners.

"Trans Fat Free"

The American Heart Association recommends limiting trans fat intake to less than 1 percent of total calories per day. For most people, this is fewer than 2 grams. According to labeling laws, a food that contains fewer than 0.5 grams of trans fat per serving can be labeled as "trans fat free." If you eat more than one serving of a food with just under 0.5 grams of trans fat, you will quickly reach your 2 gram limit without realizing it. Read ingredient lists closely. The phrase "partially hydrogenated oils" is an indicator that the product contains trans fat.

"Product" or "Food"

These terms are often used when food has been heavily processed or when it combines a variety of ingredients to form a product that resembles a food you may be familiar with. The most common use is with cheese. Check the labels closely. "Cheese foods" and "cheese products" may contain little to no cheese at all. You may be better off enjoying a small amount of the real food in moderation instead of consuming the highly-processed fillers.


"Spread" is a term used when a product does not meet regulations to be called the food it resembles. For example, peanut butter must contain 90 percent peanuts. When the product doesn’t, it is called a peanut spread. In some cases, spreads use fillers like corn-syrup solids and partially hydrogenated oils. These ingredients may lower total fat, but they increase added sugar and dangerous trans fats. It may be better to skip artificial spreads and eat the original form of the food in moderation.

"Made with              "

Many products claim that they are "made with fruit" or "made with whole grains." However, there is no set amount of the ingredient the food must contain to make this claim. It’s possible that it only has a tiny amount of fruit or whole grains. Look for "100%" to ensure the food contains only the ingredients you are searching for.


Lori Rice, M.S., is a nutritional scientist and author with a passion for healthy cooking, exercise physiology, and food photography.
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