Can I choose a low cholesterol food by its label?

Terms such as fat free or low-cholesterol can be confusing when you see them on food labels. But each of these terms has a meaning set forth by the government. Take a look at this chart to find out what each term means. Look in the left column for the words you see on the label. Then follow the row across to the right to see how much total fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, and calories are associated with those words.

Food Label Terms
Words on the Package Total Fat in the Product Saturated Fat in the Product Cholesterol in the Product Calories in the Product
"-Free," "Non-," such as Fat Free* or Nonfat Less than 0.5 grams/serving Package says: "Nonfat" Less than 0.5 grams/serving Package says: "Saturated Fat free" Less than 2 mg/serving Package says: "Cholesterol free" Fewer than 5 calories/serving Package says: "Calorie free"
"Low" 3 grams or less/serving and 30% or fewer calories from fat Package says: "Low-fat" 1 gram or less/serving and 15% or fewer calories from saturated fat Package says: "Low in Saturated Fat" 20 mg or less/serving, and saturated fat must be 2 g or less/serving Package says: "Low in Cholesterol" Fewer than 40 calories/serving Package says: "Low in Calories"
"Reduced," "Less," "Fewer" Reduced by at least 25% Package says: "Less Fat" Reduced by at least 25% Package says: "Reduced Saturated Fat" Reduced by at least 25% Package says: "Reduced Cholesterol" Reduced by at least 25% Package says: "Fewer Calories"

*Labels that state a percentage fat free - such as "98% fat free" - refer to the weight of the food. For instance, if a food is labeled 98% fat free, only 2% of the food's weight comes from fat. This does not mean that only 2% of its calories come from fat. For instance, the label on 2% milk may seem to imply there's only a small amount of fat in this milk - but it actually contains considerably more fat than low-fat or nonfat milk contains. Only foods that contain less than 3 grams of fat per serving can carry a claim on the label about "% fat free."

Keep in mind that a food carrying a label that says low-fat or reduced fat is not necessarily low in calories. So it's still important to pay attention to the serving sizes you eat.

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