Are “Low or No” Fat, Sugar or Sodium Foods Healthy? Maybe…Maybe not!

Research published this week in the Journal of Academic Nutrition and Dietetics on foods labeled “low or no” fat, sugar or sodium found the labeling often misleading as these claims do not necessarily mean the product is healthier. Further, it isn’t clear what the ‘low or no‘ claims are based on – “low or no” compared to the regular version of the product or compared to other types of similar foods?

Link to summary of article:

Link to podcast of study results:

Sign Up for E-News

Use this news

Are you buying low fat, low sugar or low sodium versions of foods thinking they are healthier than the “regular” version?  As this research suggests, you may want to turn the package over and read the nutrition label. What you find may surprise you.

Sometimes the low fat versions have more sodium or sugar than the regular versions to compensate for the lack of flavor from less fat. In fact, a study published in 2016 comparing the sugar content of low fat vs regular fat versions of the same food, found the sugar content was higher in all the low fat versions -not healthier at all.

As far as sodium goes, low sodium means there is less than 140 mg of sodium per serving.    Be careful to read the food label to find out the serving size. A low sodium food is only low sodium if you eat one serving. Take low sodium deli turkey, for example. If you eat one serving, in this case 1 slice, it has 130 mg of sodium. A sandwich made with 4 slices has 540 mg of sodium – not so low sodium any more.

Foods labeled unsalted or no sodium added do not mean the food is low sodium or sodium free.  It means extra salt wasn’t added. A good example of this is no salt added pretzels.  There is still salt /sodium in the pretzel itself, but no salt was added to the outside of the pretzel.

Foods labeled less or reduced sodium are not low sodium. They just contain 25% less sodium than their original counterparts and still can have a hefty dose of sodium. Take low sodium soy sauce, for example. It has about 530 mg of sodium per tablespoon. True, that is less than the 890 mg of sodium in regular soy sauce, but still a lot. Keep in mind that one teaspoon of table salt has 2300 mg of sodium or about the amount in 2 ½ tablespoons of low sodium soy sauce. While we wouldn’t dip our sushi into a bowl of salt, we think nothing of dipping it into a bowl of soy sauce.

Here’s what the different labels mean as defined in the 2013 Food and Drug Administration food labeling guidelines:


  • Salt or sodium free: less than 5 milligrams of sodium per serving
  • Very low sodium: 35 milligrams or less of sodium per serving
  • Low-sodium: less than 140 milligrams of sodium per serving
  • Reduced or less sodium: at least 25 percent less sodium per serving than comparable food.


  • Sugar Free: Less than 0.5 grams sugars per serving
  • Low sugar: not used
  • Reduced or less sugar: at least 25% less sugars per serving than a comparable food


  • Fat free: less than 0.5 grams per labeled serving labeled serving Contains no ingredient that is fat or understood to contain fat.
  • Low fat: 3 grams or less per serving
  • Reduced or less fat: at least 25% less fat per serving than a comparable food that is not low fat

For more information:

Food and Drug Administration –

Food Labeling Guidelines

Sodium in your diet



Joanna Hayden, PhD, CHES is the principal of Associates for Health Education and Behavior, LLC, in Sparta, a practice focused on improving health through education. Her office offers individual and group health education, and individual health behavior change guidance.  For more information please see  To contact Dr. Hayden, email her

The opinions expressed herein are the writer's alone, and do not reflect the opinions of or anyone who works for is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the writer.

TAP Into Another Town's News:

You May Also Be Interested In

Sign Up for E-News

Millburn/Short Hills

Millburn Recreation Accepting Memberships for Pool, Tennis and Golf

February 19, 2018

MILLBURN, NJ - The Millburn Township Recreation Department announced that it is accepting memberships for the township pool, tennis and golf facilities. The memberships are available to all Millburn Township residents and the applications are available online.

The membership application can be accessed at or go ...

Millburn Police Investigating Theft at Louis Vuitton Store

March 13, 2018

On March 6, 2018 Millburn Police Officer McMillan stopped a 2003 Acura 3.2 on Parsonage Hill/Passaic for having no front plate and tinted windows. The investigation led to the arrest of 33 year old Horace Hall Jr of Newark for possession of a controlled dangerous substance (marijuana) and possession of drug paraphernalia. Mr. Hall Jr was released on a summons.

On March 6, 2018 Millburn Police ...


AtlantiCast: Episode 13

On this episode of AtlantiCast, new clinical studies in the fields of cardiology and immunotherapy, national and statewide recognitions for Atlantic Health System medical centers and the inaugural AtlantiCast Collab Challenge!


Mismanagement At Presby Threatens the Future of the Garden

March 22, 2018

Dear Editor,

It is with concern that I bring this subject to the attention to all who care and treasure the Presby Memorial Iris Garden, which along with the cherry trees of Branch Brook Park is one of the crown jewels of the Essex County Park System.  This historic garden founded 90 years ago by Frank Presby on  Upper Mt. Ave. is known internationally for its collection which ...

Upcoming Events


Mon, March 26, 9:00 AM

My Tech Learning STEM EdVenture Lab, Livingston

Calling All Artists & Inventors to My Tech's ...

Arts & Entertainment Education


Tue, March 27, 9:00 AM

My Tech Learning STEM EdVenture Lab, Livingston

Calling All Artists & Inventors to My Tech's ...

Arts & Entertainment Education

Thu, January 14, 12:00 AM


How to Solve Our Human Problems

Class Meditation Religious

Millburn Republican Committee Names Nominee for Township Committee Seat

March 22, 2018



Last Monday, at a meeting of the Millburn-Short Hills Republican County Committee, Jodi Rosenberg was endorsed  by acclamation to run for the single open seat on the Township Committee in the 2018 election.  Jodi, who currently serves as Deputy  Mayor, is ...

Paper Mill Playhouse Wins Two People’s Choice Awards

Paper Mill Playhouse Wins TWO People’s Choice Awards

Paper Mill Playhouse is most honored organization in the award’s ten-year history

Paper Mill Playhouse (Mark S. Hoebee-Producing Artistic Director, Todd Schmidt-Managing Director), recipient of the 2016 Regional Theatre Tony Award, is pleased to announce it has won two, 2018 Discover Jersey Arts People’s Choice ...

All-Star Basketball Event Coming to Millburn

Millburn All Stars vs. Pros – Saturday March 24, 6:00 pm

Community Event at Millburn High School

On Saturday, March 24th, the Millburn High School Senior Celebration 2018 Committee is partnering with Dreams for Kids, Inc., to present Millburn All-Stars vs. Pros.

At the All-Star Basketball event, a team of NFL players will take on teams from the Millburn/Short Hills ...