How High is "High-Fiber"? (Nutrition Buzzwords, Demystified)

Ever wondered what that "high-fiber" cereal is actually providing in the way of fiber? (And is it less impressive than the box labeled "fiber-rich"?) Or how many calories are in that "low-calorie" sports drink?
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©(c) Hemera Technologies

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Ever wondered what that "high-fiber" cereal is actually providing in the way of fiber? (And is it less impressive than the box labeled "fiber-rich"?) Or ever considered how many calories are in a "low-calorie" sports drink?

In order for a food company to splash words like "high in fiber" across its packaging, the product must adhere to specific guidelines established by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The FDA also regulates claims at the other end of the spectrum: Foods that boast being "low in" or "free" of something (such as sodium), must also meet requirements. Here's a cheat sheet of what's behind the buzzwords.

Glossary of Terms

High, rich in, excellent source of: These terms can be used if a food contains 20 percent or more of the daily value of something (for example, fiber, Omega-3 fats, calcium, iron, potassium or vitamin C).

Good source: One rung down from the above. This term can be used if a food contains between 10 percent to 19 percent of the daily value of a nutrient.

Low in calories: 40 calories or fewer per serving

Calorie-free: Fewer than 5 calories per serving

Low-fat: 3 grams or less of fat per serving

Fat-free: Less than 0.5 gram of fat per serving

Low saturated fat: 1 gram or less saturated fat (and less than 0.5 gram trans fat per serving)

Saturated-fat free: Less than 0.5 gram saturated fat (and less than 0.5 gram trans fat per serving)

Trans-fat free: Less than 0.5 gram trans fat (and less than 0.5 gram saturated fat per serving)

Low-sodium: 140 milligrams or less sodium per serving
Sodium-free: Fewer than 5 milligrams sodium per serving
Sugar-free: Less than 0.5 gram of sugar per serving

Word to the wise: Some foods, of course, might be a "good" source of less-than-desirable things, including sodium and sugar, but the label, of course, would never make such a claim -- one more reason to look past buzzwords and take a good look at the ingredients list and nutrition facts.

Toby Amidor, MS, RD, CDN, is a registered dietitian and consultant who specializes in food safety and culinary nutrition. She is the author of The Greek Yogurt Kitchen: More Than 130 Delicious, Healthy Recipes for Every Meal of the Day.

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