In Nutrient content claims, Nutrition facts labels
The FDA says that monitoring calorie intake is an important part of weight management.

The FDA says that monitoring calorie intake is an important part of weight management. Image credit: Flickr user mo1229.

As a food manufacturer, you know that the words you use on your package can have a huge impact on how customers perceive your product and even whether they purchase it. That’s why being aware of the most popular Nutrient Content Claims (NCCs)— such as low-fat, low-sodium, and low-calorie—is key.

The low-calorie NCC has gotten a lot of attention over the years, and this trend continues today.  With obesity affecting over a third of the American population, there is a large movement toward healthier eating habits. According to the FDA, monitoring caloric intake is a significant part of healthy eating—especially when it comes to weight loss.

That being said, calorie counts on food products aren’t only of interest to those looking to reduce their weight—many Americans use the calorie count on the nutrition facts panels to help them simply maintain a healthy weight. Because low calorie and other calorie-related NCCs are so popular, let’s look at the FDA’s requirements for a low-calorie nutrition label, what consumers are taught about calories, and how to reduce calories in your food products.

A Breakdown of the FDA’s Low-Calorie Label Requirements

The FDA guidelines for using a low-calorie NCC are simple enough to understand and adhere to, but you need to be familiar with the Recommended Amount Customarily Consumed (RACC) for your particular product. This amount, which is a number set by the FDA to help food manufacturers determine portion sizes for their nutrition facts panel, will help you determine if your product fits within the low-calorie parameters.

Once you’ve determined the RACC for your particular product, you can use online nutritional analysis software to instantly calculate the calories for the RACC. In order to be considered low-calorie, it must fit within the following guidelines:

Low-Calorie: A maximum of 40 calories per RACC is considered low. If the RACC for your particular food product is less than 50 grams, calories can’t exceed 40 per 50-gram serving. For entire meals and main dishes, the calories cannot exceed 120 per 100 grams.

Of course, there are other calorie-related NCCs of interest to consumers, including:

  • Calorie Free: In order for a food to be deemed free of calories, it must contain no more than 5 calories per RACC and per labeled serving. Common examples of calorie free foods include diet soda, chewing gum, and shirataki noodles.
  • Reduced Calories/Less Calories: A food product that has 25% fewer calories than a similar reference food (i.e. a food product of the same variety with normal calorie levels). For main meals, the requirement is 25% fewer calories than the reference food per 100 grams.
  • Lite/Light: In order to use these terms, you must do one of the following:
    • Reduce the fat in your product by at least 50% per RACC if more than half of the total calories are from fat.
    • Reduce your calories by one-third per RACC, or reduce the fat by at least 50% if fewer than 50% of the calories in your product are from fat.
    • For main dishes and meals, meet the requirements for either the low-calorie (see above) or low-fat definition—though you must indicate which of the two it complies with.

Calorie Recommendations for Consumers

The FDA has always placed emphasis on calorie intake in order to educate consumers about their nutritional needs and the role of calories in weight management. As a result, the calories per serving is likely the most widely understood piece of information on the nutrition facts panel.

While the FDA acknowledges that calorie needs vary from person to person depending on age and activity level, it does recommend certain calorie guidelines. Generally, the FDA advises that an average adult consume 2,000 calories per day. This is the value that appears on nutrition facts panels to provide context for the product’s calorie count. The FDA also provides a basic guideline for consumers (not to be confused with their guidelines for manufacturers) to quickly determine whether a food is low, moderate, or high in calories:

  • Low-Calorie: 40 calories or less per serving
  • Moderate-Calorie: 100 calories or less per serving
  • High-Calorie: 400 calories or more per serving

With this information in mind, you can better anticipate how consumers may perceive your product’s calorie content.

How to Reduce Calories in Your Food Products

Because the FDA has deemed limiting calorie intake as important for managing weight, it is a good idea to be aware of the number of calories your product contains per serving—especially if your target audience may be concerned with healthy eating and/or calorie counting. Let’s look at the two simplest and most common ways to reduce calories in your food product:

Reduce fat content: Fat has a whopping 9 calories per gram—more than twice that of protein and carbohydrates (which each have 4 calories per gram). Reducing the fat in your product, even just a little, can significantly lower the number of calories. Depending on the product, fat can be replaced with healthy alternatives, including pureed fruit (i.e. bananas or applesauce), pureed vegetables (such as squash), or manufactured fat substitutes.

Reduce sugar content: Many food products contain high levels of sugar which increase the calories per serving. Cutting the sugar and replacing it with natural low-calorie sweeteners such as stevia or xylitol can provide sweetness without adding to the calorie count.

The food industry is seeing a growing demand for healthy, natural products. Keep this trend in mind, and consider whether reducing the calories in your product could help meet the desires of your target audience and increase profit. After all, it is indeed possible to create natural food products that are also low-calorie.

While navigating the world of NCCs can be confusing at times, there are resources available to help you easily determine which specific NCCs your product qualifies for. Online nutritional analysis software such as LabelCalc not only provides you with a nutrition facts panel, it evaluates your product for 24 qualifying NCCs so you can choose what claims to highlight based on your target audience. This way, you can feel confident that the NCCs on your product present honest information to your consumers and adhere to FDA guidelines.

With LabelCalc, you can generate your nutrition facts panel and instantly discover which Nutrient Content Claims your product qualifies for. To learn more about our FDA-compliant online nutritional analysis software, contact us today.

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