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Most of the time, food claims are undecipherable and cryptic. Who knows the difference between low fat and reduced fat? I mean the real distinction: the actual simple concept or definition, call it as you prefer it, behind these confusing and, sometimes, mystifying words.

Is it better a calorie free, a sugar free or a fat free product? Does one exist with all these 3 characteristics? And are they healthier than the regular ones? If in a day you don’t need to exceed more than 56-78 total grams of fat (obviously, already including less than 16 grams of saturated fats, less than two grams of trans fat, and less than 300 mg of cholesterol for a 2,000 calories diet), how do you split the fat during your day?…Moment of suspense…Don’t worry, I will not do this calculation!

This is a little “formulary” that can help resolve this complicated and disturbing problem! All data is referred to the serving size of the food product (just remember to add it up if you, for example, live in the U.S.).

The Free Ones


Sugar free: meaning less than 0,5 grams of sugar.

Calories free: meaning less than 5 calories.

Fat free: meaning less than 0,5 grams of fat.

Cholesterol free: meaning less than 2 milligrams of cholesterol and 2 grams (or less) of saturated fat.

Sodium free: less than 5 milligrams of sodium (with no sodium chloride).


The Low Ones


Low Fat: meaning less than 3 grams of fat.

Low in saturated fat: 1 gram of saturated fat or less (no more than 15% of the calories coming from saturated fat.

Low cholesterol: 20 milligrams (or less) of cholesterol and 2 grams (or less) of saturated fat.

Very low sodium: 35 milligrams (or less) of sodium.

Low sodium: 140 milligrams (or less) of sodium.


The Reduced Ones!


Reduced fat: meaning at least 25% less fat than the regular product.

Reduced cholesterol: meaning at least 25% less cholesterol than the regular product and 2 grams (or less) of saturated fat.

Reduced sodium: meaning at least 25% less sodium than the regular product.


The Exceptions!


Light: meaning at least one-third fewer calories than half the fat of the regular product, or no more than half the sodium of the regular product. (Are we really expected to do it?)

High fiber: 5 grams (or more) of fiber.

In other words: green light for the “x-free” products, yellow light for the “low ones”, and “almost red” light for the “reduced ones”. However, this works if you are only counting and focusing on the calories! But you also have to consider the nutritional value of the food you are about to eat and, sometimes, the “x-free, reduced and low versions” are not good enough for our health.

So, if you have to, count the calories, but always keep in mind the big picture and eat everything…just a little less than what you would normally do.