For a product to be labelled sugar-free, it must have under .5 grams of sugar per serving.
Sugar-free products usually take advantage of artificial sweeteners, which, while not technically sugar, might actually be worse. One study conducted with rats found that they were more easily addicted to saccharin, “an intense calorie-free sweetener,” than to cocaine.
A different study found that consuming artificial sweeteners instead of sugar actually causes greater weight gain than regular sugar. Sugar has a way of signaling to our bodies the amount of calories we’re intaking, which means it can help us feel satiated and combat overeating. This same property is not found in articial sweeteners.
Fat-Free, Low-Fat, Reduced-Fat
To be labeled fat-free: it must have less than .5 grams of fat per serving.
To be labeled low-fat: it must have 3 grams or less of fat per serving.
To be labelled reduced-fat: it must have at least 25% less fat than comparable products.
Many of these products have nearly the same amount of calories as their “full fat” counterpart, and some are higher in sugar, sodium or other troublesome ingredients. This can be especially problematic since people tend to overeat foods labeled low-fat, believing these foods are lower in calories as well. A Cornell University study found that people ate up to 50% more when a package was labeled “low-fat” compared to a package with no such labeling.
For a product to be labelled low-sodium, it must contain less than 140 mg per serving.
Much like low-fat items, just because a product has a reduced amount of one ingredient does not mean other troublesome ingredients were reduced as well. Take for example, Tostitos Rounds Torilla Chips. Although the “low-sodium” version is lower in sodium than the standard (albeit only by 60 mg per serving), it still contains the same amount of calories, fat and saturated fat. When those numbers are all fairly high, that’s an issue.