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Nutrition Highs and Lows

Posted Aug 24 2008 6:44pm
People regularly throw out the terms “low-fat”, “low-carb”, “high fiber” and “reduced sugar” liberally -- and often times inaccurately.

Although the terms “high” and “low”can be subjective (a 15-story building in Manhattan is relatively low compared to the surrounding skyscrapers), they are mostly defined by clear-cut boundaries in the world of nutrition.

When in doubt, here is a handy guide.

If you’re talking fats, a “very low fat diet” gets no more than 15 percent of total calories from fat.

A traditional low-fat diet, meanwhile, consists of no more than 30 percent of calories from fat.

Keep in mind this is a rather wide spectrum.

In reality, 16 to 25 percent is truly considered “low fat”. By the time you get to the 25 – 30 percent range, you are crossing into more moderate territory.

Hence, the latest mainstream recommendations for 30 – 35 percent of calories from fat can not be casted off as “low-fat” dogma.

The heart-healthy Mediterranean Diet, for instance -- which no one would ever describe as “low fat” due to the prevalence of olive oil, nuts, and fatty fish -- consists of approximately 30 - 35 percent of calories from fat.

It is worth pointing out that the Mediterranean Diet is high in monounsaturated fat and very low in saturated fats.

Mainstream dietitians have no qualms in recommending daily intake of heart-healthy foods like almonds, walnuts, olive oil, salmon, avocado, and flaxseed.

Although there is no true definition of what a “low carb” diet is, two numbers keep popping up in the literature.

Many clinical research trials define “low carb” as no more than 60 grams of carbohydrates per day.

More intense low-carb advocates, however, bring the number down to no more than 30 grams a day (as much as one large apple or one standard slice of bread.)

Food labels also have to abide by certain protocols (established by the Food & Drug Association) to make “high” and “low” claims.

In order for a product to be labeled “low fat”, for instance, it must contain no more than 3 grams of fat per serving.

The term “reduced calories” can only be used on a product that provides at least 25 percent fewer calories than the regular variety.

Similarly, any product describing itself as "reduced" sugar must offer at least 25 percent less sugar than the regular variety.

The statement “high in fiber” may only be used on products offering at least 5 grams of fiber per serving.

As for the term “good source of fiber” – you need at least 2.9 grams per serving to qualify.

Lastly, another interesting one: “light” can be used to describe a product that offers either at least 50% less fat, 33% less calories, or 50% less sodium than the regular variety
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