Do you tend to buy foods with “light” or “lite” on the label? Do you know what makes a food “light”? Let’s check it out.
The Food and Drug Administration has set definitions for which foods can be called “light. (“Lite” has the same meaning.) If you really want to get into the details, they are laid out in Title 21 of the Code of Federal Regulations. I bet you just want the summary. I don’t blame you.
Here goes! There are three main criteria that any food (and the label) must follow in order to be called “light.”
First, there must be a “reference food.” All this means is that there is a comparable food on the market. The reference food is often another version of the same food from the same brand, or a similar food from a competing brand (think Campbell’s or Progresso). The reference food could also be a representative of that type of food (sort of like the average of the three most popular brands).
Second, there are the nutrition guidelines. A food can be called “light”:
- If 50% (or more) of the calories are from fat, the fat content (per serving size) is at least half of the original.
- If less than 50% of the calories are from fat, then the total number of calories must be at least 1/3 less (per serving size) than the original; OR the fat content must be less than half of the reference food.
Third, there are labeling guidelines. The label has to state what the reference food is and the percent that the calories or fat were reduced.
Let’s look at an example. Here’s part of the label from a “regular” yogurt.
And the same part of the label from a “light” yogurt from the same brand.
Here is the comparison of the nutrition labels:
|Calories from fat||15||0|
|Total fat||1.5 grams||0 grams|
|Cholesterol||10 milligrams||<5 milligrams|
|Sodium||85 milligrams||80 milligrams|
|Total carbohydrate||33 grams||16 grams|
|Sugars||26 grams||10 grams|
|Protein||5 grams||5 grams|
The light version has no fat, so we need to look at criteria #2 above (less than half the total calories come from fat). This means that the total calories per serving size needs to be at least 1/3 less (33%) than the total calories in the “reference food”. (Remember, the nutrition information here is per serving size.) In this case, the light version has 90 calories compared to 170 calories in the original version, which is about 47% less.
Notice that the blue label (from the light yogurt) says it has 40% fewer calories than “the leading low fat yogurt.” This doesn’t necessarily mean the same brand of low fat yogurt, it could also be a competitor.
Something else to pay attention to on this nutrition label is the amount of total carbohydrates and sugars. The light yogurt has less total carbohydrates and less sugar than the original yogurt. If you are trying to watch your calories and your carbs, the light version might be the better choice for you.
Finally, take a look at the ingredients lists.
Although they are not in the same order (meaning the amounts of the ingredients are not the same), the actual ingredients are mostly the same. The biggest difference is that the light yogurt uses aspartame as a sweetener, and has some different preservatives. If you are trying to avoid artificial sweeteners like aspartame, you might want to choose the original yogurt, even though it has more calories than the light version. (The price we pay for real sugar!)
Did you notice that the original yogurt says it is 99% fat free? We’ll get to that definition in a post soon… Stay tuned for more in the Finding Healthy Choices series!
Do you tend to buy the “light” versions of foods? What else are you looking for when you make your food decisions?