Although the FDA has definitions for terms like reduced sugar, no added sugar, and sugar free, companies sometimes come up with marketing lingo that is just made up. One of those terms is lightly sweetened, which is not defined by the FDA. “Whether Kellogg’s Frosted Mini-Wheats Bite Size is “lightly sweetened” should be determined by federal rules, not the marketing executives of a manufacturer,” according to a CSPI report from 2010.
Cholesterol free does not mean no cholesterol. Cholesterol-free products must contain less than 2 mg per serving while low-cholesterol products contain 20 mg or less per serving. Foods that say reduced or less cholesterol need to have at least 25% less than comparable products. Cholesterol is made by the liver, so only animal products like meat, dairy, eggs, and butter can contain it. If a plant-based product, such as corn oil touts its cholesterol-free status, there is no benefit compared to other vegetable oils, which also do not contain it.
Sugar free does not mean a product has fewer calories than the regular version; in fact it may have more calories. (Food makers are supposed to tell us if a product is not low-cal). Sugar-free products have less than 0.5 grams of sugars per serving, but they still contain calories and carbohydrates from other sources. These products often contain sugar alcohols, which are lower in calories (roughly 2 calories per gram, compared to 4 per gram for sugar). We need to compare labels to see if the sugar-free version is any better than the regular version. (Common sugar alcohols are mannitol, xylitol, or sorbitol).
Products that say trans fat free or no trans fat can contain less than 0.5 grams per serving. If a product says 0 trans fat on it, it may not be zero. If you have two servings, then you may get a good amount added to your diet. Check for words on the ingredient list such as hydrogenated oils and shortening, which mean trans fat is still present.
Gluten is a protein found in grains like wheat or rye and can cause problems for those with celiac disease or gluten intolerance. Gluten-free products are becoming easier to find, which is great for those with Celiac Disease (less than 1% of the population). For the other 99% of us there is no advantage to buying them. In fact, gluten-free whole grains may have less fiber than the regular version. Unless you have metabolic problems, gluten-free products do not help you lose weight and are not necessarily good for you, but because it’s a buzz word, it is put on packages.