DIET AND LIGHT FOODS: ARE THEY THE SAME ?
Is diet the same as light? Is a diet and/or light food always low in calories? Are only those who want to lose weight buying and consuming diet and/or light foods? These are some of the frequent questions we ask ourselves as consumers when we read food labels.
What are diet foods?
The Argentine Food Code (CAA) defines dietary foods as packaged foods that are differentiated by their composition and/or by the modifications resulting from the addition, subtraction or substitution of certain substances. They are intended to meet the particular nutritional and dietary needs of both healthy people and people with particular diseases.
Dietetic foods for healthy persons are classified into:
– Foods for infants and young children
– Fortified foods
– Fortified foods
– Foods with added fiber
Dietary foods for people with particular diseases (obesity, diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, celiac disease) are classified into:
1 Foods modified in their energy value (calories).
2 Foods modified in their carbohydrate composition (carbohydrates).
3 Foods modified in their protein composition (proteins)
4 Foods modified in their lipid composition (lipids or fats).
5 Foods low in sodium
6 Gluten-free foods
In addition, our regulations consider dietary supplements, propolis foods, caffeinated and taurine analcoholic beverages (energy drinks), probiotics, prebiotics and foods for specific medical purposes (such as commercial or artisanal enteral formulas and nutritional modules) as dietetic foods(1).
Examples of dietary foods include:
– milk fortified with vitamin A and D
– fortified wheat flour
– light mayonnaise
– light cookies
– cookies without added salt
This shows us that a wide and varied number of foods fall under the concept of “diet”.
What about diet?
Although “diet” is an English word that means dietetic, it is not included within the terms allowed by national regulations to be declared on food labels and advertisements because it may cause confusion among consumers. This is because the word “diet” is generally associated with reduced-calorie foods and does not have the same meaning as that set out in the CAA.
When is a food considered to be light?
Our regulations allow the use of the word “light” in both the labeling and advertising of a food if:
– it complies with the “low” attribute, specified in the national regulations, in relation to the energy value and/or the content of carbohydrates, sugars, total fat, saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium. Other authorized terms are “mild…”, “light…”, “poor…” and “light…”.
– has had a minimum 25% reduction in energy value and/or carbohydrate, sugars, total fat, saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium composition, compared to the traditional version of the same food. It also allows the use of the words “reduced in…”, “…less than…”, “lower in…”, “less…” and “…less than…”.
The energy value of the light and no-salt-added variants is practically the same as that of the classic variants. The content of carbohydrates, sugars, proteins, total fat, trans fat and fiber is similar in the three variants. There is a significant reduction in saturated fat and cholesterol content in the light and no-salt-added variants compared to the classic variants. The no-salt-added water cracker variant has practically no sodium compared to the other two variants.
As can be seen in the example, the fact that the word “light” appears on the label of a food does not necessarily mean that it is reduced in calories.
In conclusion, the terms “diet” and “light” have different meanings and are not synonymous with low or reduced calorie. Therefore, in order for us as consumers to make informed and discerning choices about the foods we want, we should carefully read and understand the nutritional information on food labels.
We remind you to consult your doctor or nutritionist who will be able to guide you on what type of food to consume according to your state of health.