On most food containers, they say:

Sugars less than 1g.

Why don't they just say:

< 1g

Do users not like math in any context? Even if the math helps summarize and shorten content?

  • 3
    not sure user is the best way to describe someone reading a food container.
    – Dave Haigh
    Apr 25, 2016 at 13:22
  • 4
    The question title and content do not match up. Food labelling is something that is generally highly regulated by governments, and there are restrictions on what can/can't be printed on the label. Extrapolating 'users don't like maths [symbols]' from that is a massive leap.
    – Midas
    Apr 25, 2016 at 13:52
  • 5
    Not sure why this is getting down voted. Does the idea of users being scared of math scare people? Apr 25, 2016 at 14:44

2 Answers 2


It is used

According to the FDA's guidelines it is perfectly acceptable to shorten "less than" to the symbol "<".

(i) The name of each nutrient, as specified in paragraph (c) of this section, shall be given in a column and followed immediately by the quantitative amount by weight for that nutrient appended with a “g” for grams or a “mg” for milligrams as shown in paragraph (d)(12) of this section. The symbol “<” may be used in place of “less than.”

§101.9 Nutrition labeling of food.

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I am not sure if it is truly more or less used than the words "less than", but if it is less than I would assume it is simply to be more verbose and ensure the reader understands.

EDIT: As Midas pointed out in the comments UK regulations show similar guidelines:

These guidelines cover the amounts of nutrients that can be regarded as negligible and can therefore be declared as “0g” or as "< X g"


Seemingly not even giving the "less than" option.


Why don't they just say Sugars < 1g ?

Because not all intended users/readers are fluent enough in math shorthand

Plus and minus symbols? Sure. Greater and less than symbols... not so much. Of course, lots of people understand these easily, but it's a massive assumption to think that 'everyone' gets them.

I was once taking part in a card game before which two other (PhD-level) participants suggested that the most efficient way to describe the way the cards should be dealt is "Deal n-1 cards".

The counter argument is: that's only efficient if all users are equally knowledgeable about the algebraic concept of n. If my middle-aged small-town home-maker Mom was in the group, she would have have no idea what n-1 means and the efficiency of the instruction would be lost.

In that case, and in this one, the most efficient and effective method is the one that's most understandable to most people.

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