Skip to main content

« Back


What Do Food Label Claims Really Mean?

What Do Food Label Claims Really Mean?

Laurie Norris

Many items at the grocery store contain claims on the labels that are enticing you to buy them. But buyer beware! Multi grain, heart healthy, organic, low sugar, low fat – They all sound great, however what do these claims truly mean?

According to, there are three categories of claims. The first refers to nutrient content, usually addressing sugar, sodium, fat or calories. The second type of claim suggests that the item can be helpful in improving health. And finally, there are structure or function claims, stating that a nutrient in the item can help in some way, such as “contains calcium that can build strong bones.”

Here are a few terms often found on food labels:

All natural – The FDA defines this as having nothing artificial added. It does not necessarily address pesticides, manufacturing techniques (like pasteurization) or the nutritional value.

Healthy – This is allowed on a label if the item has predominantly monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats or contains at least 10 percent of the daily value of potassium or vitamin D.

Light – The fat content must be reduced by at least half of the original or regular version of the food.

Good or Excellent Source – If food is labeled good source, it must contain 10-19 percent of the daily value of a nutrient. An excellent source can be used on the label if the item has 20 percent or more of the daily value of a nutrient.

Low – This can refer to fat, sugar, calories, sodium or cholesterol. The American Diabetes Association says that per serving, to be allowed to use this label claim, fat content must be 3 grams or less, sugar should be less than .5 grams, calories should be under 40, sodium under 140 grams and cholesterol less than 20 mg.

Sugar Free – This only means that there is no refined cane sugar. The item can contain natural sweeteners such as agave and brown rice syrup, artificial sweeteners or sugar alcohols. So even if the item says it’s sugar free, it may actually have sugar grams listed on the nutrition label.

Whole Grain – Always make sure the label says 100% whole grain. This means the item was made with grains that were kept intact, keeping the healthy outer layers that are nutrient-rich. If the label says “made with whole grains” there could still be white flour added. And multigrain simply means the item was made with several types of grains, possibly not even healthy grains.

Organic – If beef is labeled organic, says that cows must have spent at least 4 months grazing in pastures, have eaten feed grown without chemicals, and have not been treated with hormones or antibiotics. Produce can only be treated with pesticides that the USDA deems safe.

Hopefully this helps you understand better what these food label claims mean. Just remember, they’re often plastered on products to encourage you to buy them. Bottom line? Read the nutrition label! Check the ingredients listed to be sure of what you are actually getting. If you would like more help or information, please call 330-550-9839.

Contact Us