Food Label Claims
Food manufacturers use their packaging as advertising space to try and sell their product….and it can be very misleading. Take frozen crumbed chicken for example. Many food manufacturers state that their product is 100% chicken breast. Now while this may be true, they don’t mention on the front of the box that the quantity of chicken breast is less than 50% of what you put in your mouth. The rest is often flour or starch and water, and then there’s all those numbers that represent flavours, colours, additives and preservatives. Food manufacturing regulations are there to protect the consumer and provide guidelines for the food industry, but like any big industry, they find ways to get around these regulations.
As a Nutritionist, I often talk about the risk nutrients in processed food. These are sodium (salt), sugar and fat, especially saturated fat. Research has shown that diets high in these nutrients may increase your risk of obesity and chronic disease. Here are some of the claims to look out for:
• No added salt – no sodium has been added to the food product.
• Reduced salt – the regular amount of sodium added to the product has been reduced.
• No added sugar – this means that no added refined sugar has been added to the product such as fructose and glucose. You need to be aware though that some foods are naturally high in sugar such as fruit. One glass of fruit juice can need up to 6 pieces of fruit to make one glass so when you drink 250 ml of juice you may be consuming several teaspoons of sugar without knowing it.
• Diet foods – This commonly means that the food has had artificial sweetener added to it and is also low in fat.
• Low fat – Foods that claim to be low in fat must contain no more than 3 grams of fat per 100 gram of food. Often if a food is low fat then it may contain high amounts of sodium or sugar.
• Cholesterol free – this can be very mis-leading as people may think that this also means fat free. Cholesterol is primarily found in animal products and not plant products such as avocado. However, half an avocado contains 12.7 grams of fat and whilst this is a healthy unsaturated fat, it is still energy dense.
• Lite or Light – this can refer to fat content, energy content, colour, taste or texture. Read the label closely to find out exactly what this means for each product.
• High fibre – Foods that claim to be high in fibre must have at least 3 grams of dietary fibre per serve. It is not a risk nutrient, but an essential nutrient for good health and the number of kids we see with chronic constipation is alarming. Kids are having to have surgery to clear their bowels because they get so blocked up. Many pharmacists I speak with are also alarmed at the number of parents coming in buying fibre supplements for their children. Fibre is best sourced through fresh food.
Learning how to read food packaging can help greatly when trying to improve your health or lose weight. Another way to make healthier choices is to check for the fat, sugar and sodium content of packaged food on the ingredients list. If any one of these appears as one of the first three ingredients, then you know that product is high in that nutrient.
Remember that fresh is best but packaged food is also unavoidable in today’s society. Making healthier choices at the supermarket is a great way to start your journey to better health.
Written by Lisa Stegena, Nutritionist
Nutrition Force is a Western Australian based company of Nutritionists and Accredited Practising Dietitians that offer weight loss programs, private dietetic consultations, children’s nutrition & dietetics, school nutrition and Corporate Wellness programs. If you would like more information on our Perth Dietitians and the other services we offer call us today on (08) 9385 7755.