Interpreting Food Packaging Labels
Low in sodium, no salt added, reduced sodium…we’ve all seen food labels that make some kind of claim regarding the sodium levels on prepackaged foods. But what exactly do they mean? Are these phrases all the same? Do they mean anything at all? This article will unravel the mystery behind sodium claims on food packaging. Armed with this knowledge, you’ll be able to make smarter, healthier food choices when you shop.
Knowledge is Power
Currently, guidelines set forth by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for maximum recommended sodium intake indicate that the average person should have no more than 2,300 mg of sodium per day- or about one teaspoon. Medical experts suggest that sodium intake should be limited to around 1,500 mg per day. It is estimated, however, that most Americans consume two to three times this recommended amount. Most of this sodium comes from prepackaged foods. Understanding how to read the nutrition facts and interpret nutrition statements on prepackaged foods is the first step in maintaining healthy sodium levels.
Be sure to check the serving size carefully. Is the serving size on the package realistic? It is not uncommon to find that the serving size listed on the package does not accurately reflect normal eating habits. Keep this in mind whenever purchasing or preparing your meals. The FDA regulates the serving sizes used on packages based on the reference amount customarily consumed (RACC). The FDA sets forth standard serving sizes for foods so that consumers can easily compare the nutritional value of one product to another.
Low Sodium, Very Low Sodium, Reduced Sodium… What’s the Difference?
The FDA has set forth very specific guidelines for the claims made on food packages. Here’s the lowdown on what each of these terms mean:
Sodium Free or Salt Free
In order to be labeled as “sodium free” or “salt free” a product must contain less than 5 mg of sodium per serving.
Very Low Sodium
“Very low sodium” means that food must contain less than 35 mg sodium per RACC. The RACC is 100 grams for meals and main dishes, and 50 grams for foods eaten in small portions (such as dips or condiments).
“Low sodium” means that food must contain less than 140 mg sodium per RACC. The RACC is 100 grams for meals and main dishes, and 50 grams for foods eaten in small portions (such as dips or condiments).
Reduced Sodium or Less Sodium
Reduced or less sodium products must contain at least 25% less sodium than the standard or original version of the product. Use caution when buying products labeled “reduced sodium” or “less sodium.” Often times, these products are still very high in sodium. For instance, 1 cup of name-brand chicken broth contains 929 mg of sodium in a 1-cup serving. The reduced sodium version of this same product contains 570 mg of sodium- over one third of of the maximum sodium intake recommended by medical professionals.
Light in Sodium
“Light in sodium” is similar to “reduced sodium” or “less sodium,” except that the product must contain at least 50% less sodium than the standard or original version of the product. The same precautions apply to products labeled “light in sodium.”
No Salt Added or Unsalted
“No Salt Added” or “unsalted” means that no salt is added to the food during processing or packaging. These products may contain some amounts of naturally-occurring sodium in them. Remember to check the nutrition label for specific information on sodium content.
To be labeled as “lightly salted,” a food must have 50% less sodium than normally found in the product. Again, use precaution and check the nutrition label carefully for more information when you see products labeled “lightly salted.”
For more information on the FDA’s requirements for nutrition labels, check out the full list of guidelines here.