How to Read Food Labels

Terms like “reduced fat,” “fat free,” “low sodium,” “light,” “low sugar,” etc. can be a bit overwhelming when grocery shopping and what do these terms really mean?


Fat, fat, fat…you need it, as it is a key nutrient required for normal body function.

  • Keep the amount of fat in your diet to 25-35% of your daily caloric intake.
  • Reduced or less fat products contain at least 25% less fat than the regular product.
  • Products labeled “light” contain at least 1/3 fewer calories or no more than 1/2 the amount of fat of the regular product, or no more than 1/2 the sodium of the regular product.
  • Low fat contains 3 grams of fat or less.
  • Fat free contains less than 0.5 grams of fat.
  • 1 gram of fat = 9 calories

Focus on eating the “good fats” (monounsaturated fats, like canola and olive oil and polyunsaturated fats – found in fatty fish) and avoid foods containing trans fats.


Sodium is another essential nutrient required by the body, but too much of it can lead to high blood pressure, stroke, and heart and kidney disease.

  • The recommended intake of sodium is 1500 mg/day – 2300 mg/day, most people eat double that amount!
  • Reduced sodium products contain 25% less sodium than the regular product.
  • Low sodium products contain 140 mg or less of sodium.
  • Very low sodium products contain 35 mg or less of sodium.
  • Sodium free contains less than 5 mg of sodium.

That can be a lot to remember, so keep these quick tips in mind when you are navigating the grocery store isles:

  • “Reduced” or “less” means that a product contains 25% less of a specific nutrient than the regular version of the food.
  • “Free” means that a product contains the lowest possible amount of the specified nutrient.
  • “Low” and “very low” mean that a product contains slightly more than a product labeled “free.”
  • When comparing like products, check the serving sizes to ensure that you are comparing apples to apples.

Written by Keri Cawthorne and featured on Indian River Select Brand

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