Food and Drug Administration (FDA) food labeling regulations require that essentially all food labels provide nutrition information to help consumers make informed food choices.
The regulations have a significant impact on low-calorie, low-fat and “light” foods and beverages which are so popular today. Definitions for terms such as “light” and “low-fat” have been approved by FDA. The following is a summary of some of these definitions.
FDA’s final regulations provide a specific definition for “light” (or “lite”). “Light,” without any additional clarification, may only describe a food which has been significantly reduced in fat, calories, or sodium.
Light products must be reduced in the given nutrient(s) as compared to what FDA calls a “reference food.” This is a representative value for a broad base of foods, such as an average of the three top national or regional brands of a given product. The reference food used for light claims can only be a similar food product where the difference is a result of reformulation (for example, regular potato chips would be the reference food a light potato chip). If the reference food already is considered “low in the designated nutrient (e.g., 3 grams of fat or less per reference amount), “light” claims may not be used.
“Light” also may be used to describe certain physical attributes of a food, such as texture or color. However, if light is used in this manner, the product’s label must state that “light” refers to that particular product attribute (for example, “light in color” or “light in texture”).
Other commonly displayed terms which play an important role in consumers’ selections of low-calorie, low-fat and light foods are “reduced” and “less (fewer).” Either claim may be used if a food contains at least a 25 percent reduction of the given nutrient when compared to the reference food.
FDA has established “reference amounts” for 139 different food product categories. These represent the amount of a given food customarily consumed per eating occasion.
Other labeling terms defined in the regulations include: