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Is ‘fat free’ really fat free? 5 food labels demystified

TODAY’s diet and nutrition editor Madelyn Fernstrom shares need-to-know tips about fats, sweeteners, meat and poultry, grain and fiber and fruit.
/ Source: TODAY contributor

Advertising that uses words like “sugar free” or “fat free” doesn’t necessarily mean that a product is 100 percent healthy. Some national supermarket chains are trying to make it easier for consumers. They have begun using labels to help consumers know which products are the best.

TODAY’s diet and nutrition editor Madelyn Fernstrom shares need-to-know tips about fats, sweeteners, meat and poultry, grain and fiber and fruit.

Fat
Just because a product says “no trans fat” does not necessarily mean “fat free.” It can still contain high levels of total fat and saturated fat. The product may also be high in calories. Fat-free products often have extra sugars to improve the taste of the food.

Sweeteners
When a product says “no sugar,” it really means “no sucrose added.” Sugar comes from many sources. There can still be other sugars, like sugar alcohol, included in the food. The amount of other sugars in “sugar-free” candies is similar to the calories in table sugar.

Juices are high in calories, even if the label says “sugar free.” This means the juice doesn’t have added sweeteners in it.

Meat and poultry
The term “free range” doesn’t mean animals stay outdoors all the time. It suggests the animals spend a lot of time outside roaming around, but there are no standards. As long as the animals have access to the outdoors, they are considered “free range.”

“All natural” means anything found in nature. People may think the product is healthier or organic, but that’s not always the case.

Grains and fiber
A “whole-grain source” should have at least 3 grams of fiber, but not all fibers are created equal. This means there is some whole grain in the product. Look for 100 percent whole wheat as the first ingredient.

People assume fiber comes from traditional sources like whole grains, fruits, veggies and beans. A new category called “isolated fibers” doesn’t have the same health features as natural fiber.

Fruit
A product that “contains real fruit” does not mean it has a significant amount of fruit in it. If you’re looking to get your daily serving of fruit, stick with the real thing.