Decoding Food Labels to Improve Your Diet and Performance

Get better at the sports you play and the life you lead at STACK. Improve your training, nutrition and lifestyle with daily

Shopping for your favorite foods can be confusing. Hundreds of products are available, many with versions marked with catchy labels like "light," "low-calorie" and "organic." At a quick glance, these  terms may seem obvious, but their meaning is actually more cryptic than you might assume.

Misconstruing such terms can lead to food choices you think are healthy, but actually are not. You could limit your intake of a critical nutrient or eat foods that contain unwanted additives or chemicals.

To make more informed food decisions, view the following list, which breaks down common food labels and their meanings:

Low-Fat: Has three grams of fat or less per serving.

Fat-Free: Has less than .5 grams of fat per serving.

Light: Generally, the food item has 50 percent fewer calories than its standard version. However, it can also refer to a clearer color or 50 percent less sodium in a low-calorie and low-fat product.

Low-Calorie: Has 40 calories or less per serving.

Fewer Calories: Has 25 percent fewer calories than its standard version.

100 Percent Organic: Contains no chemicals, additives, synthetics, pesticides or genetically-engineered substances.

USDA Organic: Contains at least 95 percent organic ingredients (the remaining five percent may contain additives). The nutrition label must detail the organic and non-organic ingredients.

Made With Organic: Contains at least 70 percent organic ingredients. The nutrition label must detail the organic and non-organic ingredients.

These food labels can give you an idea of what to expect from a product, but they are only one piece of the puzzle. To fully understand the foods you eat, you should read and understand the nutrition labels. This will help ensure you eat a healthy and balanced diet to fuel your body for training and competition.

Source:, Washington Post

Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock