What popular food labels mean and how to use them to make better choices

SALT LAKE CITY — Have you ever seen a sign on a package of food that says “fat free” or “reduced calories” and wondered what that really meant?

Certain food labels are federally regulated and must meet specific qualifications for food manufacturers to put them on their packaging. Here are some examples of food labels you may see and a few tips to help you use these labels to make the best health choices for you and your specific nutritional needs.

‘Light’ or ‘lite’

When found on food, this label refers to the total calories, fat or sodium content of the food. Light/lite means that calories have been reduced by 50%, or the fat content has been reduced by 50%. It can also mean sodium (salt) has been reduced to by 50%. It does not mean all three of these things are true at once.

Tip: When looking for foods labeled “light,” be sure to compare the nutrition and ingredient labels to the regular version. Sometimes manufacturers will add extra sugar or other ingredients, to make the product taste better. Just because it is labeled as light does not mean it is the healthier option. Make sure to compare side by side. If you’re looking for a lower fat salad dressing, then try something that has a vinegar base instead of oil.


Using 100% is a food label that is federally regulated. Only foods that truly have 100% of the stated ingredient, vitamin or mineral can have this printed on the label.

Tip: Look for juice that says “100% juice.” This will indicate to you that the juice contains no added sugar and only has pure fruit juice.

Tip: When buying bread, also look for the “100% whole grains” label. This indicates that the bread has retained more of its natural nutrients as well as its natural fiber, which is beneficial for gut health and can help you feel fuller longer.

Tip: Only foods that say “100% organic” are completely organic. Other foods that say “USDA organic” are only required to have 95% organic products/foods. If 100% organic is important to you then look for that statement on the label.

Dietary supplements

Dietary supplements are not regulated in the same way as food and drugs. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not test dietary supplements for safety and effectiveness before going to market, and the FDA is not authorized to test them before going to market. The manufacturing company is responsible for testing safety and effectiveness.

Tip: When shopping for supplements look for the “cGMP” label. This helps you know that the manufacturer has tested for impurities and contaminants.

Tip: Use the FDA’s website to get more information about dietary supplements and how to safely take them.

Tip: To ensure further purity, quality and safety, look for the “USP” label on dietary supplements.

About the Author: Danielle Billat

Danielle Billat is a local registered dietitian, nutritionist and mother. To read more of her articles, visit Danielle’s KSL.com author page.

Editor’s Note: Anything in this article is for informational purposes only. The content is not intended, nor should it be interpreted, to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition; Any opinions, statements, services, offers, or other information or content expressed or made available are those of the respective author(s) or distributor(s) and not of KSL. KSL does not endorse nor is it responsible for the accuracy or reliability of any opinion, information, or statement made in this article. KSL expressly disclaims all liability in respect to actions taken or not taken based on the content of this article.

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