Getting Smart about Food Labels

Say you’re mozying through the grocery store past the prepackaged deli meats, and you see a package labeled “Lower Sodium.” Is that a wise option for someone trying to limit sodium intake? The label would have you think so, but in reality, “lower sodium” sometimes translates to “way too much sodium for you, Tara!”

deli counter version of the prepackaged stuff

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has detailed rules about what food companies can put on their labels. Saying “Lower Sodium” is called a “Nutrient Content Claim.” There are many other types of label claims, but I won’t get into those now. You can read about other nutrient content claims  (i.e. “reduced-fat,” “low-calorie,” etc) at this website.

Back to the deli aisle: that healthy-looking deli meat that’s enticing you with its “lower sodium” claim is actually only required to be 25% less sodium per serving than “an appropriate reference food” that is not low in sodium. For deli meat, a typical serving can contain about 550mg of sodium (that’s in a tiny 2oz of meat.) A 25% reduction would put you around 413mg of sodium per serving, which is definitely NOT a good low-sodium choice.

Other words to be wary of on labels are: “Reduced,” “Less,” and “Modified.” Also watch out for “Light in Sodium” which indicates the level has been reduced by at least 50%, which still may not be enough if it’s a high sodium food.

So in a nutshell, always read the Nutrition Facts Panel! Look at the amount of sodium (in mg) per serving, and make note of the serving size! If the package says 90mg sodium per serving, but you eat 5 servings, you’re still in for a sodium sucker punch. BAM!


One response to “Getting Smart about Food Labels

  1. I was eating a back of Quaker party mix somethingorother yesterday and perusing the nutrition facts. Apparently 3/4 of a cup was one serving, and there were 8 servings in the bag… right. Like someone only eats 3/4 cups of that stuff, that’s clearly why they put the crack in it.

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