What do all the fat labels on foods actually mean?

With food manufactures competing fiercely for healthier, lighter meals on our supermarket shelves, some of the terms or claims made are not always what they seem to be. Don’t get ‘sucked in’ to all the claims that get advertised on the packets these days, they’re created by clever marketers for one reason – for you too buy, regardless of your goals. Usually if it’s low in something, it will be high in another, so let’s have a look at some examples of words used in the industry so that you know what I’m talking about.

For example, 97% fat free biscuits, which are predominantly made of carbohydrate and sugar carbs. And as you know sugar can turn into fat if unused, through activity. What about fat free lollies? Of course they are fat free, they are lollies, and that means entirely made of simple sugars. So be very careful with the claims on packaging. The amount of sugar in some of these “low fat” foods can create more damage than higher in good fats, lower carb foods. Let’s have a further look at the way foods can be advertised.

Lite or Light?

Does not necessarily mean low in calories or fat as many people assume. Light potato chips are thinly sliced and lightly salted, but still have the same amount or fat because they have a larger surface area for the fat to be absorbed. Light beer is lower in alcohol, but not necesarily lower in carboydrates per drink. Light olive oil is lighter in colour and flavour but not lower in fat. Light cake mix has a light texture but can still be high in fat. Light yogurt cheese, margarine and mayonnaise may have less fat and therefore fewer calories, but check to see that their sugar content are low too.

low fat high sugar yogurt
Look only 2 grams of fat for this yogurt. BUT 38 grams of carbs, including 31 grams of sugar! What the?

What do I refer to as low in fat?

If a product contains less than 3-5 grams of fat per 100 grams of food, then this is acceptable. Just be sure that if you are making up a meal that is comprised of multiple ingredients, that this meal is around 10 grams of fat in total. When making meals you have to take into account the fat from multiple sources and that’s why if it has ingredients that contain fat with around 3-5 grams per 100, then you should be able to keep within that quote of 10 grams per meal. Read my article on Understanding Food Labels and Fat limits to understand how much fat is enough and why.

Reduced Fat?

Low fat products contain less fat than reduced fat products. Reduced fat usually contains 25-33% less fat than a regular variety but this doesn’t always mean that it is a low fat food. For example a reduced fat cheese normally has 25% less fat. Normal cheese is approximately 50% fat, therefore that 25% less fat may still mean you’re getting over 10 grams of fat per serving. Hence if you over eat that reduced fat cheese with your favourite crackers, you can still overdo your daily quote of fat in just one meal.

Cholesterol Free or No Cholesterol

When you read that foods have no cholesterol, people assume that it doesn’t contain fat. But the truth us that those foods may have just as much fat as a similar product that contains polyunsaturated or monounsaturated fat. Yes, there are health benefits to low cholesterol products, but generally speaking that are no real savings in actual calories.

Polyunsaturated or Monounsaturated Fat

When people read this on foods, they may assume that these foods mean low fat, just because the type of fat. In the end all fat types contain the same amount of calories regardless of whether they are monounsaturated, polyunsaturated or saturated fat. Poly and Monounsaturated fats are just healthier for you because saturated fat contains cholesterol whereas Poly and Monounsaturated generally don’t.

Labels used to disguise the real content of foods can be a daunting task to understand. But over time as you read the fat food labels you will understand that sometimes the “healthiest” option might also be assisting you in the weight gain game. Once again my best advice is to eat unlabelled foods. Yes, that’s the fresh stuff!

I really recommend you ensure your fat, carbohydrate and protein come from as much fresh ingredients as possible. This will also allow you to worry less about fat labels, and focus more on just losing fat. I recommend you check out Burn the Fat, Feed the Muscle which is a balanced fat, carbs and protein inclusive healthy eating program. If you have any questions or comments then please feel free to comment below or contact me.


As a Trainer and Coach for over 10 years now, I've helped many people reach their goals as well as achieve my own including having lost 35kg. I'm my very own guinea pig when it come to achieving a fitter, healthier life and now I'm here to help you. Start by signing up to the Really Really Fit newsletter, Free Book and Video training that will change your mindset and life.

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