If you thought to crack the Da Vinci Code was a job, try deciphering the code for food labels. Not an easy task, as you may have discovered by now. To help you with this undertaking, here is a guide to the different codes the FDA has created:


If the label says the product is “low fat”, “low sodium” or “low calories” it means the product doesn’t have a lot of a particular substance, but it still has enough to make a difference in your diet. For example:

Low Calorie means the product has 40 calories or less per serving

Low Fat means the product has three grams or less of total fat per serving

Low Sodium means the product has a maximum of 140 milligrams of sodium per

Reduced or Less

A product containing the claim reduced fat, sugar, or sodium contains at least 25 percent less of that ingredient than the company’s regular version of that same product. However, you still need to read the food label and check the grams of the ingredient contained in the product. This is because the ingredient on the product may still be too high and as a result not too healthy.

Let us take as an example a regular can of soup that has 1.000 milligrams of sodium per serving (which is more than half the sodium you can have per day if you are watching your sodium intake). The reduced-sodium version will contain 750 mg of sodium. While this is definitely an improvement, it is still a lot of sodium to ingest in one sitting.

Light or Lite

Light or Lite means that a food product contains a third (1/3) fewer calories, fat, or sodium than the original product. Check the Nutrition Food Label to find out exactly how many calories, fat or sodium you are getting when eating a product labeled “light” or “lite”. The product may be light in fat, but the sugar can be high, a scenario we see too often in these types of foods.


If the product claims to be “fat-free” it means that it has basically no fat or saturated fat. The same goes for calories, sugars, sodium,
or cholesterol.

Lean and Extra-Lean

These terms refer to meat.

  1. Lean means one serving has less than 10 grams of total fat, 4.5 grams of saturated fat, and 95 milligrams of cholesterol.
  2. “Extra-lean” means one serving has less than 5 grams of total fat, 2 grams of saturated fat, and 95 milligrams of cholesterol.


Foods that use this claim can’t have any synthetic ingredients or additives in the food product. However, they may still be high in fat, sodium, sugar, and calories. Never assume a product labeled “Natural” is healthy. Check the ingredients. Keep also in mind that sugar is always sugar, regardless of whether it is refined sugar, brown sugar, honey, etc.

Made With …

Some food manufacturers might claim the product is “made with whole grains” but that doesn’t mean it is 100% whole grain. In fact, the product may only contain a small number of whole grains and a large number of refined flours. Manufacturers who use 100% whole grains in their products take pride to indicate “made with 100% whole grain” or “made with 100% whole wheat”. Always read the list of ingredients.

Food manufacturers like to use the claim “made with..” because it makes it appear the food has more of the specific ingredient than it really does. The same goes for the claim “made with organic grains”. If it does not say 100% organic, then at least 30 percent of the product is not organic.

Final word

A good rule of thumb when buying food products that come in a package, bottle, can, or the like, is to stay away from products that make excessive health claims. Just because the manufacturer of that product has placed a heart logo on the can or on the box it doesn’t mean the claim is true.

Always read the nutrition food label section and the list of ingredients to check the ingredients and the amounts contained in the product.


I am Andy Carpenter and I would start by saying that I have a Bachelor Degree in Nutrition Science conferred by California State University, Los Angeles and that I am certified as a Registered Dietitian.

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