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We at Body Builders Network welcome your nutrition questions. Go ahead, ask us for advice by emailing us at You will find our advice replies to you requests here, in our Nutrition Column.

Q: How can I make any sense out of nutritional information on food labels?

manufacturers, not a regulatory agency, determine the size of a serving. Often the portion sizes differ among similar products, making nutritional comparisons difficult. For example, a serving size of Grape-Nuts - is ¼ cup, while Bran Flakes is ¾ a cup. When you're pouring a bowl of cereal in the morning this would be an important consideration for portion size control since both cereals have about the same number of calories.


An individual food can contain no more than 20 mg of cholesterol per typical serving (to make a "low-cholesterol" claim) and saturated fat can't exceed two grams, because it elevates blood cholesterol. Therefore, you can trust a "low-cholesterol" claim.


A "low-fat" claim for individual foods means no more than 3 grams of fat per typical serving. However, there are some exceptions (of course there are!). For main dishes or meals "low-fat" essentially means 30 percent of its calories can come from fat. The bottom line: a "low-fat" claim on an individual food is a claim you can trust. On meals or main dishes you might want to keep the fat content closer to 20 to 25 percent if you're trying to stay lean.

Low in Saturated Fat

In order for an individual food to make the claim "low in saturated fat," it can have no more than 1 gram of saturated fat per typical serving. If less than 10 percent of its calories come from saturated fat then a meal or main dish can also make the claim. This is another claim you can believe.

Low in Sodium

A "low-sodium" claim for individual foods means 140 mg or less per typical serving. For meals or main dishes it's about 400 mg of sodium in a typical 10-ounce entrée (140 mg or less per 100 grams). Also, "very low sodium" constitutes no more than 35 mg sodium. "Sodium free" means 5 mg of sodium per serving and no sodium chloride. "Reduced" or "less sodium" claim can be made if the food contains 25% less sodium than the regular version. Another claim you can trust.

Good source of (fill in the blank)

When a food contains at least 10 percent of the DV of a vitamin, mineral, or fiber it can be called a "good source." The exception being (we did expect one didn't we?) a meal making a "high" claim for any of the nutrients it contains that meet the definition. For example, a label can say: "Contains banana squash, a good source of Vitamin E."

What is the difference between "light" and "lite" anyway?

Actually, nothing. Just a different marketing strategy. "Light" (or "lite") means different things for different foods (what a surprise!). If a particular food is fatty to begin with, then "light" means that at least half of its fat has been removed. For example, cheese would fall under this category because it gets half or more of its calories from fat. Less fatty foods can be "light" if either the calories have been cut by a third or the fat content has been cut in half. The best part is that the label has to tell you which. A main dish or meal is considered "light" if it meets the criteria for either "low-fat" or "low-calorie" (300 calories or less per serving). If a label says "light in sodium" this means half the usual sodium content or less. "Light" can also refer to color or texture, but the label must clearly say so. The loophole is that "light" can appear on foods like cream or molasses if "light" has traditionally been part of their name. So, if a label displays the word "light" or "lite," carefully inspect the package.

Whole Wheat vs. Wheat Flour

Yep. You guessed it. There is a difference. If you look at the ingredients and "whole wheat flour" is not the only flour listed, then it's not whole wheat. "Wheat flour," "unbleached wheat flour," or "unbleached enriched wheat flour" are just sneaky ways of saying "refined white flour." And don't be fooled by high-fiber "light" breads either. The "light" makers have added highly processed fiber to up the fiber content to five or six grams. The bottom line is that these "light" breads are still mostly refined white flour lacking the vitamin-and-mineral-rich germ and bran that have been milled away in the process.

Made with Real Fruit

(Is there such a thing as fake fruit?) With fruit drinks the new rules require each juice in a "blend" to be listed from most to least on the front of the label and fruit juices list the actual percentage of fruit juice it has. If the word "flavored" is preceded by, say, raspberry (or any other fruit) then you're getting only a tiny amount of that juice. In other words, the labeling rules don't address most claims about an ingredient, like fruit or whole wheat so buyer beware!

2%, 1%, and Skim Milk

Ever wonder what the 2% and 1% mean? Well, it refers to the amount of butterfat left in the milk after it's been processed. But it's not the correct percentage of fat you're getting per serving. 2% milk has 130 calories and 5 grams of fat per one cup serving. 1% milk has 110 calories and 2.5 grams of fat per serving. If you do the math the percentage of fat from 2% milk is a whopping 35 percent! 1% milk comes in at 20 percent. Therefore, only 1% milk and skim milk (90 cal/serving and 0 grams of fat) can be considered low-fat. Congress conveniently exempted milk from the new labeling laws (the dairy industry must have some powerful friends). So, if you're currently drinking 2% milk, do the switch.

97% Fat-Free

This one really bites because the new labeling rules allow a manufacturer to make the claim of "97% fat-free" when the food's fat content has been calculated using the weight of the product instead of the actual calories per serving. For example, Campbell's® Cream of Mushroom Soup advertises 98% fat-free. There's a total of 3 grams of fat and 70 calories per serving. After doing the math the percentage of fat comes in at just under 39 percent! If you just trusted the label, you'd expect to be getting only 2 percent of your calories from fat. The bottom line: anytime a label makes the claim of "98% fat-free" (or any other percentage) turn it over and compare actual fat grams with total calories to get the real story. This is also true for meats (beef, poultry, pork) and meat products as they are regulated by the USDA, which has adopted most, but not all, of the FDA's regulations.

High Fiber

In order for a food to make the claim "high fiber" it must contain at least 5 grams of fiber per individual serving. A "good source of fiber" claim would qualify 2.5-4.9 grams of fiber per individual serving. A label claim you can trust.

Amazing Foods

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