Making Sense of Food Terms

Many of the items lining the shelves at your local market or even in your own kitchen cabinets or refrigerator make all kinds of claims and declarations. Low-fat.  Sugar free. Organic. Gluten-free. Foods are often labeled with these terms. But what do they actually mean? Some food terms are based on fact, but many can be misleading. Here’s a little background we’ve pulled together about some of the most common descriptors found on food packaging.

Low fat

Low-fat means the product has 3 grams of fat or less per serving. Serving size is listed on the food label.

Fat Free

Fat-free means the product 1/2 gram of fat or less per serving.

Light or lite

Light or lite may be used in reference to a variety of different characteristics of a product. It often means the product has at least half as much fat or 30% fewer calories as the regular version of the food.

Cholesterol free

Cholesterol free means the product has fewer than 2 milligrams (mg) of cholesterol, and 2 grams or fewer of saturated fat.

Low/reduced cholesterol

Low cholesterol means the product has 20 mg or less and fewer than 2 grams of saturated fat.


Sugar-free means the product contains less than 1/2 gram of sugar per serving.

No sugar added

No sugar added means that no sugar was introduced during the preparation, cooking, or baking process, but does not mean the product is sugar free.

Low Sodium

Low-sodium means the product has 140 milligrams or less per serving.


Calorie-free means product has fewer than 5 calories per serving.

Low calorie

Low calorie means the product has 40 calories or less per serving. Low calorie prepared meals contain less than 120 calories per 100-gram serving.


Organic means that at least 95 percent of a product’s ingredients are organic.


Gluten-free means the product does not contain any gluten-containing grains, like wheat, rye, or barley.

High in or rich in

High in or rich in means the product has 20 percent or more of the recommended daily value for the specified nutrient per serving.

* Please let us know if you have a more suitable definition for any of the terms we have listed. Email us at

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