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The Mackie Report 

Label Lingo
In last month's column, we discussed product labels on foods and how to interpret the data on them. Federal regulations require that manufacturers list the contents of food products with more than one ingredient as well as important information about calories and the product's nutritional content.

However, there is one more aspect of food labeling that we didn't discuss last month, namely claims made by manufacturers on the labels -- specifically terms such as "free," "low," "reduced," etc., that are used to describe fat content or some other component of the product. For example, a package may say "fat free," "reduced fat" or "low sodium." While these terms may be self-explanatory, we have to examine them both in their context and in comparison to each other. There are basic general standards that have to be met in order for certain claims to be made.

"Free" generally means an amount so small and negligible that it probably won't have an effect on your body. "Calorie free," "fat free" or "sodium free" doesn't mean there are no calories, fats or sodium in the product; it just means the amount is too minuscule to have much of an effect on you. If the product says "low calorie," "low fat," "low cholesterol" or anything similar, it means these ingredients are present, but in amounts that aren't significant enough to worry about.

"Reduced" is an amount used to describe food with at least 25 percent less calories, fat, saturated fat, cholesterol or sodium than a comparable food. Other terms that describe the same thing are "fewer," "lower in," "less" or "-- percent reduced" (depending on what number that percent represents).

The term "high" is an amount that is 20 percent or more of the daily value for a nutrient. For example, a label might say "high in vitamin C" or "high in calcium." Other comparable terms are "excellent source of" and "rich in." "More" is an amount that is 10 percent or higher of the daily value; for example, "more fiber" or "more iron." Other terms are "enriched," "fortified" or "added."

"Light" (or "lite," to use the vernacular term) is a food that has one-third fewer calories or 50 percent less fat than the traditional version of the same food. A "low-calorie" or "low-fat food" with 50 percent less sodium might also be called light. "Healthy" is a food that is low in fat and saturated fat. It must contain sodium amounts of 480 milligrams or less per serving, and at least 10 percent of the daily value of vitamins C and A, calcium, iron, protein, and fiber.

For packaged seafood, game, cooked meat or cooked poultry to be called "lean," it must have less than 10 grams total fat, 4.5 grams or less of saturated fat, and 95 milligrams or less of cholesterol, based on a 3-ounce serving. To be designated "extra lean," the item must have less than 5 grams total fat, 2 grams of saturated fat and 95 milligrams of cholesterol per 3-ounce serving.

These are some basic guidelines you can go by when you're out shopping and comparing food labels. Of course, each person has different needs, depending on factors such as age, weight, body mass index and general health. A licensed nutritionist can advise you on these matters and devise a nutrition program that works best for you. Once again, I'd like to thank Molly Kimball, a licensed nutritionist who works with my PEP Program at Elmwood Fitness Center, for supplying information for this month's article.

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