Using the Low Fat Nutrient Content Claim: The FDA Guidelines Food Manufacturers Need to Know

“Low-fat” food products are still popular among Americans, though many don’t fear fat as much as they used to.

“Low-fat” food products are still popular among Americans, though many don’t fear fat as much as they used to. Photo credit: Flickr user Kārlis Dambrāns.

For decades, dietary fats were demonized in America. While modern nutritional science has now shown us that not all fats are bad, fat intake remains an important consideration in our overall health. As such, “low fat” products are still in demand. In fact, a recent global study of healthy eating habits reported that 25% of North Americans felt that a “low-fat” label was very important to them when deciding whether to purchase a food product. Furthermore, 59% of North Americans reported that reducing their fat intake was a strategy they used to lose weight.

These numbers, along with the prevalence of “low fat” products on grocery store shelves, show that “low fat” foods are still popular among American consumers. So, if you are considering using the “low fat” nutrient content claim (NCC) on your label, you’ll need to know what qualifies as “low fat” and how to ensure your product meets the FDA’s criteria.

FDA Guidelines For Using the Low Fat Nutrient Content Claim

In order to use the words “low-fat” on your product label, you have to meet a few stringent guidelines set by the FDA. As a rule, your product must contain 3 grams or less of total fat per Reference Amount Customarily Consumed (RACC), a standard set by the FDA as a guideline for manufacturers to gauge serving sizes. If the serving size for your product is particularly small—like that of raisins, nuts, or seeds—it can’t contain more than 3 grams from fat per 50 grams.

For packaged meals and main dishes, the guidelines for “low fat” are slightly different. In this case, every 100-gram meal portion must not contain more than 3 grams of fat. Furthermore, no more than 30% of the dish’s calories can come from fat.

Guidelines for Other Fat-Related Nutrient Content Claims

“Low fat” is just one of the many fat-related NCCs available when marketing to consumers who are concerned about their fat intake. It is important to be aware of these so you ensure you are using the NCC most appropriately suited for your product. Here are a few of the common fat-related nutrient content claims along with a brief overview of the FDA guidelines for each:

  • Fat-free
    • Fewer than 0.5 grams of fat per RACC/labeled serving
    • Doesn’t contain a fat-based ingredient (ie. oil) or an ingredient containing significant amounts of fat (ie. nuts)
  • Reduced/Less Fat
    • A minimum of 25% less fat per RACC compared to a suitable reference food (ie. for “reduced fat” potato chips, the appropriate reference food would be regular potato chips)
    • For meals and main dishes, a minimum of 25% less fat than the average reference dish per every 100 grams
  • Lite/Light
    • Can be used on foods that qualify as “low fat” or “low calorie” as long as the specifics are indicated (i.e. “Light – low in fat”)
  • Low Saturated Fat
    • Fewer than 1 gram of saturated fat per RACC
    • No more than 15% of calories from saturated fat

It is important to note that in light of recent nutritional science debunking the myth that all fats cause disease, the FDA has revised some of its opinions when it comes to fats in food products. For instance, the future FDA nutrition facts panel update will remove “calories from fat” from labels, as it has recognized that the kind of fat in a product is more significant than the amount when it comes to human health. The FDA is also in the process of redefining the term “healthy” for food products, and the new definition will do away with the past requirement for a food to qualify as “low fat” in order to be labeled as “healthy.” Given the changing perception of fats at the government level, we will likely see a decreased demand for “low fat” foods in the years to come. Having said that, foods that are high in fats have inherently higher calorie counts, so people may continue to choose low fat foods for health purposes.

How Online Nutritional Analysis Software Can Ensure FDA Compliance

Of course, determining the amount of fat as well as the different kinds of fat in your product requires sound nutritional analysis. An FDA-approved online nutritional analysis software instantly provides you with this information once you enter your product’s recipe. You can then use the detailed nutrient profile to determine if your product qualifies for “low fat” or any other fat-related NCCs. Online nutritional software works for most food products, but deep fried items require nutritional analysis performed by a food lab.

Since making sure you are compliant with the FDA guidelines for NCCs can be an overwhelming, complex, and somewhat confusing process, it is useful to choose a software that also provides expert consulting for food manufacturers. This way, if any questions arise around FDA compliance, NCCs, or your nutrition facts panel, you can seek the assistance of a professional who is well-versed in these subjects. LabelCalc’s expert nutrition consultants routinely offer guidance for food manufacturers looking to include nutrient content claims like “low fat” on their product labels to ensure everything is done correctly. At the end of the day, providing your customers with a “low fat” NCC will attract people concerned about their fat intake to a product that suits their needs. And meeting the needs of your target customers can only benefit your business.

At LabelCalc, our web-based nutritional analysis and label-making software make creating your product labels a breeze—NCCs and all. Contact us today to learn how our software and consultants can help you.

What is LabelCalc?

LabelCalcⓇ is one of FoodCalc LLC’s two nutrition analysis products, created to help meet the needs of the food industry. Based in San Francisco, CA, we are a nationally recognized provider of online nutrition analysis that is fast, accurate, and FDA-compliant.

Watch A Demo

Recommended Reading

Using LabelCalc: Creating a Subrecipe

Depending on the complexity of your product recipe, sometimes your final product might consist of several recipes all rolled up into one. A frozen pizza, for example, tends to have multiple components: the dough, marinara and seasoning blend. When you have a food...