Have you ever looked at a label and read “Low calorie” or “Excellent source of protein”? Many companies use claims like these to persuade consumers to buy their products. But do these claims hold any truth? As it turns out — yes, they do.

The Food and Drug Administration is a federal organization that oversees the nutritional labels on food products — domestic and imported. This organization was originally founded as the Bureau of Chemistry in 1862 by Abraham Lincoln; its name was later changed to the FDA.

In 1990, the Nutrition Labeling and Educating Act was passed. This act now required all label claims to be consistent with terms defined by the Department of Human Health Services. Such terms include “low fat” and “light”, among others.

The definition of these terms are as follows:

• Low calorie: 40 calories or less per serving.

• Low cholesterol: 20 mg or less and 2 g or less of saturated fat per serving.

• Reduced: At least 25 percent less of the specified nutrient or calories than the usual product.

• Good source of: Provides at least 10 to 19 percent of the daily value of a particular vitamin or nutrient per serving.

• Calorie free: Less than 5 calories per serving

• Fat free/sugar free: Less than one half gram of fat or sugar per serving.

• Low sodium: 140 mg or less of sodium per serving.

• High in: Provides 20 percent or more of the daily value of a specified nutrient per serving.

So how exactly can this information be used? Well, label claims on packaging make it easier to compare labels of similar products. For example, when looking at a certain product such as granola bars, the consumer can look at the label and easily identify which brands are a good source of protein or fiber.

When avoiding certain nutrients, label claims can make the decision even easier. For example, many canned soups contain a lot of sodium. Looking for a brand of soup with the low-sodium claim will ensure that the product has less than 140 mg (6 percent of the daily value) of sodium or less per serving, whereas a serving size of “normal” soup will have around 921 mg of sodium (38 percent of DV).

When looking at the overarching idea of label claims, the definitions used are based on general recommendations for your average American adult. Even though label claims seem insignificant to every day life, they portray a larger picture that is important for us Americans to understand and visualize, especially when it pertains to our health.

Joel Hollow, a native of Racine, is a dietetics student at UW-Stout, Menomonie, and wants to pursue a career in sports nutrition.