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Making sense of food labels


Sometimes, terms used on food labels can create more questions than answers.


Tammy Roberts, nutrition and health education specialist with University of Missouri Extension, said if a food company makes a nutrient content claim about a food, it must follow the federal regulations for that claim. Just knowing what is behind the definition of those words makes it easier to understand the labels.


Here are some of the nutrient claims on food products and what they mean:

  • “Free” means there is an amount so small that it probably won’t have an effect on your body.
  • “Reduced” means the food must have 25 percent less of the ingredient they are making the claim about.
  • “High” means the food must contain 20 percent or more of the Daily Value per serving for the nutrient they are making the claim about. For example, a food label might say “High in vitamin C.” To make that claim, it must have at least 20 percent of the Daily Value for vitamin C.
  • “Light” means the food must have one-third fewer calories or one-half the fat of the traditional version.
  • Use of the phrase “Good Source” means the item must contain an amount that is 10 to 19 percent of the Daily Value for the nutrient per serving.


To make the claim that something is healthy, the food must be:

  • low in fat and saturated fat
  • have 60 milligrams or less of cholesterol per serving
  • 480 milligrams or less of sodium per serving
  • at least 10 percent of the Daily Value per serving of vitamin C, vitamin A, calcium, iron, protein and fiber.


Raw, frozen and canned fruits and vegetables are exceptions. They can be labeled healthy without having 10 percent of the Daily Value or more of these nutrients per serving.


The term “Daily Value” was developed when the regulations for the food label were developed. They are based on average nutrient levels needed for the entire population and the term is used only for labeling.


For more information on nutrition issues, go online to or contact Tammy Roberts at (417) 682-3579.



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Last update: Tuesday, November 29, 2011