In Nutrient content claims
Nutrient content claim light

Using the term “light” on your food product label can be confusing, so it’s a good idea to use the help of an online nutrition analysis software and an expert labeling consultant. Photo source: Flickr user ilovebutter.

Cam’s line of gourmet frozen yogurt had been selling well for years, but in the past few months, his sales were down by 20%. After receiving the results from a survey he’d sent out to his customers, he noticed that many people were concerned with the amount of fat that was in his product. So, in an attempt to raise sales, Cam decided to make a “light” version of his product.

After spending hours researching FDA guidelines for “light” products, Cam felt flustered and confused. He’d figured that if he simply reduced the fat a little bit, he could slap the word “light” on his label and call it a day. It turned out, however, that the process was a bit more complicated than he’d originally thought.

As a food manufacturer, you want to highlight features of your product that will appeal to a certain demographic of consumers. And if you’ve worked hard to make your product healthier than others on the market or different than your original product, you want people to know it. But as Cam’s story shows us, navigating the world of nutrient content claims and FDA guidelines can be tricky—especially when it comes to terms like “light.” So, in hopes of saving you hours of sifting through dry FDA documents, I’m going to explain the guidelines for using the nutrient content claim “light” on your food product package in easy-to-understand terms.  

Basic Guidelines for Using the Nutrient Content Claim “Light”

In order to use the term “light” on your label, your product has to comply with a few strict FDA guidelines. First, you must compare your product to a reference food that falls into the same category as yours. If your product is a “light” frozen yogurt, for instance, you must use the nutritional values of regular frozen yogurt as a comparison.

The FDA recommends that these reference values be determined by averaging the nutritional values of several products (i.e. the top 3-5 brands) within the category or by looking at a valid nutritional database. Keep in mind, however, that these reference amounts can’t be from low-calorie or low-fat products.

Once you determine the averages, you can accurately compare your product to the industry standard and determine whether or not it falls within the definition of “light.” Keep in mind that the term “light” can be used in reference to more than just one substance, though. Light in fat, light in calories, and light in sodium are the three typical contexts in which “light” is used.

In order to use the word “light” in reference to fat on your label, your product must be:

  • Reduced in fat by at least 50% per Reference Amount Customarily Consumed (RACC)—a standard set by the FDA as a guideline for manufacturers to gauge serving sizes—if the reference version of your product derives more than 50% of its calories from fat.
  • Reduced in fat by at least 50% per RACC if the reference food does not derive 50% of its calories from fat.

In order to use the word “light” in reference to calories on your label, your product must be:

  • Reduced in calories by ⅓ per RACC if the reference food does not derive 50% of its calories from fat.

In order to use the word “light” in reference to sodium or salt on your label, your product must be:

  • Reduced in sodium by at least 50% (compared to a suitable reference food) AND be in compliance with the definitions of “low calorie” and “low fat.”

It is important to note that if your product is reduced in sodium by at least 50% per RACC and doesn’t comply with the definition of “low calorie” or the definition of “low fat,” you must use the phrase “light in sodium” instead of just “light” so as not to mislead consumers. Also, be mindful that using the phrase “light in sodium” doesn’t necessarily mean your product must comply with the guidelines for “low sodium” products. However, if your product is a main dish or a complete meal, in order to claim that your product is “light in sodium,” it must also meet the criteria for “low sodium” products.

If you want to use the term “lightly salted,” your product needs to have 50% less sodium than an appropriate reference food, but it doesn’t need to comply with the criteria for “low sodium.” If it doesn’t, however, you must state something to the effect of “this is not a low sodium food” on the information panel of your product package.

Online Nutrition Analysis Software Can Help You Comply with Nutrient Content Claims

While the above information can be somewhat overwhelming, there is a simple way to find out if your product complies with the FDA’s criteria for nutrient content claims like “light.” A reputable, FDA-approved online nutritional analysis software will instantly generate complete nutritional information when you enter your product’s recipe, making it easy for you to determine how your product compares to a reference product. This is definitely the easiest, quickest, and most affordable way to determine if your product qualifies nutrient content claims. Online nutrition analysis software works for the vast majority of food products, although if your product is deep fried or heavily processed, you will need to have your nutritional analysis performed by a food lab.

If you still find yourself with questions, you can always consult with a food labeling expert. Some online nutrition analysis software, like LabelCalc, offers expert consulting services for its users. This is what Cam ultimately ended up doing, and the consultants were able to answer all his questions about FDA compliance for using the “light” claim. Plus, he learned what other nutrient content claims his product qualified for so he could choose the best one for his product.

At the end of the day, it is your responsibility as a food manufacturer to provide consumers with accurate nutrition information and honest claims. While this can feel scary given the specificity of the FDA’s guidelines, especially for first-time food manufacturers, know that you aren’t alone. It’s okay to ask for help with navigating the complex and often confusing world of nutrient content claims and nutrition labeling. Trust me, you’ll be glad you did.

LabelCalc offers the most affordable, user-friendly online nutrition analysis software on the web. To create an account and start making your FDA-compliant labels or to work with our expert label consultants, contact us today.  

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