Facts for Consumers from the Federal Trade Commission

Food Advertising Claims -- April 1992

If you're interested in a healthy diet, you probably look for foods advertised as "low in fat," "no cholesterol," or "light." But these claims don't always guarantee that the food is good for you.

In fact, the Federal Trade Commission has challenged use of these claims in specific food advertisements. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) also is defining these terms to clear up confusion in food labeling. FDA's definitions go into effect as early as May 1993.

To help you shop wisely, you may want to learn more about the following food advertising claims.

Fat Claims

The Surgeon General of the United States, along with many prestigious health organizations, has recommended that no more than 30% of Americans' daily calories come from fat. Fat has been implicated in heart disease the nation's number one killer as well as in cancer, diabetes, and other serious illnesses. Fat claims in food ads take various forms. Among the most confusing may be those claiming a food is, say, "93% fat-free."

At first glance, the product may look like a good choice. But, in most cases, this percentage is based on weight, not on calories from fat. Foods advertised with fat-free claims based on weight still can be relatively high in fat.

Instead, focus on the number of grams of fat and the percentage of calories from fat in each serving. Only then will you know how the food measures up against the Surgeon General's guidelines. To figure out the percentage of calories from fat, check the nutrition label for the number of grams of fat in a serving. A gram of fat has 9 calories. Simply multiply the number of grams of fat in a serving by 9 and compare that to the total number of calories in a serving.

For example, a serving size of food might have 100 calories and 7 grams of fat. To find out the number of calories from fat, you would multiply 7 grams by 9 to get 63 calories of fat. That means 63 out of 100 calories, or 63% of this food is fat -- which is high. Even if a particular food's fat content is reasonable, you still need to be careful about eating too many grams of fat in your overall diet. The FDA has suggested limiting one's fat intake to no more than 75 grams a day.

The FDA has recently proposed food labeling regulations that will allow "percentage fat-free" claims to be made only on foods meeting the definition for a low-fat food. Before then, be cautious of claims that a food is low in fat or is some percentage fat-free. Check the food label yourself to see if the claim is accurate.

No or Low Cholesterol Claims

Some food ads include no or low cholesterol claims. Too much cholesterol in a diet, like too much fat, has been associated with health risks.

Cholesterol and fat are not the same thing. Some foods with no or low cholesterol are, in fact, very high in fat. For example, you might see no or low cholesterol ads for such foods as potato chips or peanut butter. Vegetable products like these don't contain cholesterol anyway. They may contain, however, large amounts of fat.

"Light" Claims

Some food ads include "light" or "lite" claims. No matter how it is spelled, the implication usually is that the food is better for you by having less fat or fewer calories.

There currently is no standard definition for "light." Some light claims mean fewer calories in a serving. Others indicate smaller serving sizes or that the color of the food is lighter than similar products.

New federal labeling regulations will define "light." In the meantime, read the food label carefully. Try to determine what "light" means for each particular product.

For More Information

If you have concerns about food advertising claims, write: Correspondence Branch, Federal Trade Commission, Washington, DC 20580. Information about these issues helps the FTC in its law enforcement efforts.


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