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The Lowdown on Low Fat

Labelling Fat

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Fat Labels

Fat Labels

Fiona Haynes
What exactly is meant by low fat? There are so many confusing labels out there. Scan the aisles at the grocery stores and you’ll see all kinds of claims — lean, light, reduced fat, low cholesterol, low calorie, fat-free, etc. The list seems endless. Small wonder we throw our hands up in despair. Yet all of these terms are government-regulated and have specific meanings. But they do not mean the same thing.

Here’s a list of some of the most common claims and what they really mean:

  • Fat Free Less than 0.5g of fat per serving
  • XX% Fat Free Must also meet the low fat claim (below)
  • Low Fat 3g or less per serving; or 3g per 100g for a meal or main dish, and 30% of total calories or less
  • Reduced Fat 25% less fat than food it is being compared to
  • Low Saturated Fat 1g or less and 15% or less of calories from saturated fat
  • Trans Fat Free Less than 0.5g of trans fats per serving
  • Light/Lite 50% less fat or one-third fewer calories than the regular product
  • Lean Less than 10g of fat, 4.5g of saturated fat and 95mg of cholesterol per 100g of meat, poultry or seafood
  • Extra Lean Less than 5g of fat, 2g of saturated fat and 95mg of cholesterol per serving and per 100g of meat, poultry or seafood
  • Low Cholesterol 20mg or less per serving and 2g or less saturated fat per serving
  • Cholesterol Free Less than 2mg per serving and 2g or less saturated fat per serving
  • Less Cholesterol 25% or less than the food it is being compared to, and 2g or less saturated fat per serving
  • Low calorie 40 calories or less per serving

Remember, this is not an exhaustive list. There are other claims for sodium, carbohydrates, sugar and fiber, but for those of us looking specifically at fat intake, these labels can tell us a lot.

A package of reduced-fat muffins is unlikely to be a low-fat, low-calorie food. If its original fat content per muffin was 20g, and the fat has been reduced to 15g, it is still five times higher than the 3g per serving that officially qualifies as low fat.

And that jar of light mayonnaise in the refrigerator may indeed be half the calories and fat of regular mayonnaise, but let’s see what that really means: the regular mayo has 11g of fat and 100 calories per serving; the light mayo has 5g of fat and 50 calories per serving. Yet the fat calories in the light mayonnaise still account for 45 (or 90%) of those 50 calories.

So if you’re looking for low fat items, make sure it says exactly that on the label. A final note of caution: watch out for those packages of fat-free cookies. If you eat more than the single serving size, they cease to be a fat-free snack. All those fractions of a gram add up and count towards your daily fat intake.

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