Red Flags On Food Labels

Red flags to watch out for on nutritional labels

Don’t let marketing gimmicks fool you.

Low-fat, fat-free, sugar-free, cholesterol-free, calorie-free, sodium-free, low- sodium… the market is flooded with products specifically aimed at attracting the growing tribe of health enthusiasts. And while it’s great to have options, it’s equally important to verify these claims are true. 

Here’s a quick guide to shopping right...


As per the FDA, 40kcal per serving is low in calories, 100kcal is moderate and 400kcal is high.


Less than 5mg is considered sodium-free, while lesser than 140mg is considered low sodium.

—Sugar and HFCS:

Sugar, either in its natural form or otherwise (high fructose corn syrup, fructose syrup, golden syrup and the like) should be noted on the label. High sugary foods not just include chocolates and candies, but even certain breakfast cereals, aerated drinks, milkshakes, energy bars, low-fat yogurt and fruit juices. Less than 0.5gm of sugar per serving is considered sugar-free.

—Cholesterol/saturated fat:

Cholesterol free should mean less than 2mg cholesterol and 2gm or less saturated fat. Be cautious about both saturated and trans fats as they are harmful for your heart health.

—Anti nutrients:

Food additives and colours are added in minute quantities, but could be harmful. According to some studies, colours like blue 1, blue 2, yellow 5 and caramel colour could cause cancer, brain damage and tumour.


High consumption of caffeine can lead to anxiety and depression. Colas and Red Bull have higher caffeine content—growing children should definitely avoid. A cup of tea (240ml) would have 25mg caffeine as compared to a can of Red Bull that has 80mg caffeine.

Refer to this table for more clarity...

(per standard serving size)
Fat-free or sugar-free Less than 0.5gm of fat or sugar
Low fat 3gm of fat or less
Reduced fat or reduced sugar At least 25% less fat or sugar
Cholesterol free Less than 2mg cholesterol and 2gm or
less saturated fat
Reduced cholesterol At least 25% less cholesterol and 2 g. or less of saturated fat
Calorie free Less than 5 calories
Low calorie 40 calories or less
Light or lite 1/3 fewer calories or 50% less fat
Sodium free Less than 5mg sodium
Low sodium Fewer than 140mg sodium
High fiber More than 5gm of fiber
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