Nutrition Buzz Words
Here, learn the definitions for some common nutritional terms really mean and gain a healthy perspective on what you’re actually putting in your grocery cart. Certain terms are backed up by law; others sound official but could mean anything or nothing. Use this guide to translate the shelf talk and shop healthier with less hassle.
Heart-Healthy – This kind of recipe contain controlled amounts of fat, saturated fat, sodium, and cholesterol, as recommended by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the American Heart Association as part of a general guide to heart health. The recipes should be used in a total-diet approach according to individual health needs.
Diabetic – This kind of recipe have acceptable carbohydrate amounts appropriate for most members of the diabetic population. They also contain limited fat, saturated fat, sodium, and cholesterol.
Low-Fat or Reduced Fat – This kind of recipe are consistent with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommendation that a person’s total daily fat intake equal only 30 percent of total daily calorie intake as part of a general guide to a healthy lifestyle. Foods labeled “low fat” are required by the FDA to deliver fewer than 3 grams of fat per serving. “Reduced fat” means the food must contain at least 25 percent less fat than the original form. Low or reduced fat isn’t always the no-brainer option. Sometimes there are nutritional tradeoffs: Reduced-fat peanut butter, for example, may contain more sodium and sugar to boost flavor. Compare the nutrition facts before you buy.
99 Percent Fat-Free – You may assume that means only 1 percent of the calories come from fat, but that’s not the case. Instead, “99 percent fat-free” means that 99 percent of a given weight of the food is fat-free, explains Bonnie Taub-Dix, R.D., a New York City–based nutrition consultant and the author of Read It Before You Eat It. So put on your math hat here: If the food weighs 100 grams, 1 gram comes from fat. Every gram of fat contains 9 calories, so depending on the serving size, a 99 percent fat-free food may contain more fat calories than you would expect. As a general rule, the fat content in most products that you purchase should be no more than 20 percent of the total calories, says Ginn. The exception to this would be whole foods that are naturally higher in fat, such as nuts, eggs, oils, and meats.
0 Grams Trans Fat – Contains less than 0.5 gram of trans fats per serving. Trans fats are associated with raising bad LDL cholesterol and lowering good HDL cholesterol, which increases a person’s risk of developing heart disease and having a stroke. Trans fats are sometimes replaced with unhealthy saturated fats, like palm and coconut oils, which also aren’t ideal. What’s more, most foods with trans fats, such as cakes, cookies, and doughnuts, are high in calories and low in nutrients. Avoid any product with “hydrogenated” or “partially hydrogenated” in the ingredient list; these terms indicate the presence of trans fats. But keep in mind that you should limit saturated fats, too.
Extra Lean – Meat, poultry, or seafood labeled “extra lean” must meet strict requirements by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Every 100-gram serving (about 3.5 ounces) must have fewer than 5 grams of total fat, fewer than 2 grams of saturated fat, and fewer than 95 milligrams of cholesterol. That amounts to a pretty small dent in your total daily fat allowance, which is about 55 grams if you eat 2,000 calories a day and get 25 percent of your calories from fat. (That intake is on the low end of the recommendations by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.) If you’re cutting back on fat, extra-lean products are a better choice than those labeled “lean,” which can contain up to twice as much total fat (10 grams) and saturated fat (4.5 grams) per serving, with the same maximum amount of cholesterol.
100% Natural – These products don’t contain artificial colors, flavors, or preservatives and have no synthetic ingredients. As with organic foods, no research proves that natural products are better for you. Most food additives, while unsavory sounding, haven’t been shown to be bad for you. Just because something is “natural” does not mean it’s good for you. It can still have loads of sugar, fat, or calories. The soda 7Up, for instance, was once marketed as “100 percent natural.” (The label now says it has “100 percent natural flavors.”) Check the ingredient list and the nutrition-facts panel to see what’s really in the item. A healthy choice will be relatively low in sugar and saturated fat, and you won’t need a chemistry degree to decipher the label.
Low-Saturated-Fat – This kind of recipe are consistent with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommendations that a person’s total daily saturated fat intake equal less than 10 percent of total daily calorie intake as part of a general guide to heart health to decrease the risk of heart disease.
Low-Cholesterol – This kind of recipe are consistent with the American Heart Association and the U.S. Department of Agriculture recommendations for a total daily cholesterol intake of less than 300 milligrams a day for healthy people. When followed consistently, a diet low in cholesterol and saturated fat may reduce the risk of chronic disease.
Low-Sodium -This kind of recipe are consistent with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Human Services recommendations for a total daily sodium intake of less than 2,300 milligrams. Emerging research suggests that people with hypertension, diabetes, or chronic kidney disease and those at risk for developing hypertension should limit daily sodium intake to 1,500 milligrams a day.
Low-Calorie – This kind of recipe are consistent with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration definitions for low-calorie foods and can be used to create a healthful daily diet based on specific individual needs. A moderately active woman 31 to 51 years old needs an average of 2,000 calories a day and a moderately active man 31 to 51 years old needs an average of 2,500 calories a day, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Human Services.
High-Fiber – Each of this kind of recipe constitutes 20 percent or more of the National Academies of Science Institute of Medicine recommended daily intake for fiber for women and provides an easy way to increase total daily fiber consumption. According to the Institute, a 19 to 50 year old woman needs 25 grams of fiber a day and a 19 to 50 year old man needs 38 grams a day.
Multigrain – It means your chips, bread, cereal, or crackers contain two or more grains. But they’re not necessarily whole grains, which are a better nutritional choice than refined ones. With refined grains (such as white bread, or wheat breads that aren’t specifically labeled “whole wheat”), the nutrient- and fiber-rich parts have been milled out. The current recommendation is to make sure at least half your daily grains are whole. Whole-grain products list the word whole (as in “whole wheat” or “whole oats”) among the first few ingredients. You might also look for the Whole Grains Council’s symbol. Companies can pay to join this organization and receive its “stamp” on products that deliver at least 8 grams of whole grains per serving.
Low-Carbohydrate – Although there are currently no national standards for recommended carbohydrate consumption, this kind of recipe are appropriate for people seeking low-carbohydrate food options for weight management as a part of a healthy diet, which should include adequate amounts of carbohydrates, fats, and protein, according to individual body-weight and weight-management goals.
Meatless or Vegetarian – This kind of recipe do not contain meat, poultry, fish, shellfish, or meat production by-products, such as gelatin. Meatless recipes may include eggs and dairy products, including cheese, milk, and yogurt.
Vegan – This kind of recipe do not contain meat, poultry, fish, shellfish, or meat production by-products, such as gelatin. Vegan recipes also exclude animal fats, butter, mayonnaise, all dairy products, eggs, and honey.
Gluten-Free – This kind of recipe do not contain gluten or wheat products. Because people may respond differently to certain foods, careful label reading should always be a part of meal preparation for those with celiac disease and/or wheat allergies.
Made With Real Fruit – “Real fruit” doesn’t always mean whole fruit. It might also mean fruit extract or juice, which could contain fewer nutrients or more sugar than the whole fruit does. And there aren’t any rules for how much of it needs to be in a box of toaster pastries, cereal bars, or other food for the package to carry this claim. The only way to figure out the amount of whole fruit in a product is to examine the order of the ingredients, says Angela Ginn, R.D., a Baltimore-based spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Contents are listed in order of volume, “so don’t be impressed unless fruit—not fruit juice—is in the first three ingredients,” she says.
Reduced Sugar, Low Sugar, or No Sugar Added – Unfortunately these labels aren’t synonymous with “low calorie.” “Reduced sugar” means the product contains 25 percent less sugar than the original form. “Low sugar” isn’t a regulated term and can mean anything. “No sugar added” simply indicates that no sugar was introduced during the preparation, cooking, or baking process—not that the product is low in sugar. It may contain fructose, which still shows up as “sugar” on the nutrition-facts panel (as with unsweetened applesauce, for instance). Give yourself a reality check by calculating sugar content in teaspoons. First find the number of grams of sugar in one serving of the product. Four grams of sugar equal about 1 teaspoon. The American Heart Association recommends women consume a daily maximum of about 6 teaspoons (or 24 grams) of added sugar (meaning sugar that’s beyond what food naturally contains). And remember: Even if you don’t see sugar in the ingredients, it might be there. Sugar is the master of disguise. It goes by many other names, including molasses, evaporated cane juice, nectar, corn sweetener, honey, syrup, and anything ending with -ose (sucrose, dextrose, fructose, maltose). It’s all still sugar.
Organic – Items that are “100 percent organic” are certified to have been produced using only methods thought to be good for the earth. “Organic” means the item contains at least 95 percent organic ingredients. Research has yet to show that organic foods are nutritionally superior, but they are typically made without potentially harmful pesticides, fertilizers, antibiotics, synthetic hormones, or genetic engineering. Organic foods can cost up to 50 percent more than nonorganic products. If that cost is prohibitive to you, it’s better to eat healthful choices, like fruits and vegetables, that are conventionally grown, rather than skipping them. Going organic never hurts, especially when it comes to avoiding pesticides, which are linked to several health issues. Produce most affected by pesticides includes peaches, apples, peppers, nectarines, strawberries, cherries, lettuce, and pears.