What is legally required?
Each food label must contain the following information
- Country of origin
- Food allergies and intolerances
- Ingredients list
- Nutrition information
- Serving size
Did you know that the ingredients lists on labels are listed in descending order? Meaning that the first ingredient you see contributed the largest amount (by weight) and the last ingredient the least.
If fat, sugar or salt is listed as one of the first three ingredients, it probably isn’t a particularly healthy choice, a sign of a healthy food item is if you recognise each food on the list and that there aren’t over ten ingredients.
The Health & Performance Collective have created this list as fat, salt and sugar are sometimes hidden in foods using the following pseudonyms:
- Fat: beef tallow or beef fat, butter, cream, coconut oil, hydrogenated oil, margarine, milk solids, palm oil, vegetable oil, shortening, full cream milk powder, cocoa butter.
- Sugar: concentrated fruit juice, corn syrup, dextrose, fructose, glucose, golden syrup, maltose, maltodextrin, sucrose, raw sugar, brown sugar, cane sugar, honey, agave, molasses, rice syrup, rice malt, barley malt.
- Salt: Baking powder, celery/garlic, glutamate, mineral salts, MSG, rock salt, sodium, sodium bicarbonate.
- Artificial Sweeteners: Includes intense sweeteners in the 900 range, and bulk sweeteners such as sorbitol (420). Artificial sweeteners impart a sweet taste for less energy than sugar. Artificial sweeteners have been linked to poor health outcomes, gut disturbances and weight gain. The jury is still out on the overall safety of artificial sweeteners so it makes sense to limit them.
Aside from the ingredients list the nutritional information on packaged foods can help you make an informed decision. Firstly, use the per 100g column on food as serving size is not always a good depiction of your intake.
As a rough guide Chloe recommends:
- Sodium/Salt: <120mg/100g for low salt or <400mg/100g for moderate.
- Energy: aim for: <600kJ per serve for a snack.
- Fat: aim for <10/100g
- Saturated fat: aim for 2g/100g or less
- Trans fat: aim for 1g/100g of less
- Sugar: less than 10g/100g
- Fibre: 7.5g/100g or more
How to read food labels
When it comes to reading food labels, the biggest mistake Chloe sees people make is “not taking into account portion size that they would actually consume.”
“Portions on the label may be misleading, for example a small pot of yoghurt that contains 1.3 serves, when you’d actually consume the entire thing.” Looking at the 100g column will help you make a more informed choice.
Health and Nutrition Claims
With lots of flowery language and pretty claims it is easy to get caught up in the lingo and unknowingly make unhealthy choices. Here Chloe breaks down some of those barriers:
- Baked not fried - may still be baked in oil. Doesn’t mean lower in fat or energy.
- Cholesterol free - only animal products contain cholesterol.
- Diet - product likely to be artificially sweetened.
- Lite or light - may refer to texture, colour or taste – not necessarily lower in energy. Be wary of additional sugar and sweeteners in these products.
- Low fat - <3% fat
- No fat - <1% fat
- Natural/organic - may still have the same energy, sugar or fat as regular varieties
- No added sugar - may still be high in energy or GI
- Reduced-fat/saltless fat or salt than the ‘original’ variety, but may still be high in fat or salt
- Wholegrain - no definition or standard for labelling the % of wholegrain that a product contains.
- Low GI - The Glycemic Index Foundation certification program (pictured below) is a tool that helps consumers identify foods that have been laboratory tested and meet strict nutrient criteria.
What is the Health Star Rating System?
The Health Star Rating system was implemented to the front of packets and packages in 2014. It is a voluntary food rating system that uses a calculator to create an overall rating. To date, 10,300 foods hold the label. Chloe warns that the ratings don’t consider sugar of GI and are best used when comparing two similar packaged items.