Deciphering Food Labels

Diets, Nutrition | February 10, 2018 | Author: Naturopath

diet

Deciphering Food Labels

Trying to find healthy foods in the supermarket can be difficult due to misleading claims and confusing labelling—not to mention the overwhelming number of choices available. Many pre-packaged foods have a strange list of ingredients that require a science degree to understand. Some state that they are low-fat with a health star rating—making it hard to make an informed choice if this is all you’re going off.

Nutrition labels on pre-packaged foods are among the most prominent sources of nutrition information. Nutrition labels are perceived as a highly credible source of information and many consumers use nutrition labels to guide their selection of food products. Evidence shows a consistent link between the use of nutrition labels and healthier diets. Thankfully, there are some straight forward ways in which you can decode food labels to make sure you are making healthy dietary choices.

Food Labelling Laws

Food Standards Australia and New Zealand (FSANZ) (Click Here for Link) develop the food labelling laws and local State and Territory agencies (Click Here For Link) implement and enforce these laws. In addition to this, fair trading laws require labels to be truthful.

Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) is responsible for setting food Standards in Australia and New Zealand and is part of the Australian Government Health and Ageing portfolio.

FSANZ works to:

  • Protect public health and safety
  • Provide information on packaging to ensure healthier choices by consumers
  • Prevent misleading information

The Food Standards Code regulates the safety of food sold in Australia and New Zealand and involves:

  • The type and amount of information on food labels
  • The composition of food
  • Making sure the food is safe

Seasonal and Australian

The first thing to look out for is that a product is made in Australia from local ingredients. Chances are the food is fresher and hasn’t been exposed to harmful irradiation. Produce manufactured overseas may have different regulations to follow which may not be the same as Australian standards. Avoid produce that are bruised and wilted, which will have a short shelf life and not to mention lacking in vitamins and minerals. 

It’s also a good idea to check the use by date to make sure you have enough time to consume the product before it spoils.

Ignore marketing claims

Food labels can draw you in with claims such as “low-fat”and “no-sugar” or feature a health-related symbol –but you really can’t take their word for it. Low-fat items can be high in sugar and sugar free products might contain artificial sweeteners. Companies that contain a health-related symbol on their product means that the have paid to have a stamp or certification added and doesn’t necessarily mean it is superior to the product sitting next to it. The only way to be sure you’re making a healthy choice is to read the ingredients list and the nutritional panel.

Gluten-free products

Products which are gluten-free have gained popularity as a healthier option.

While avoiding gluten is necessary for a person with Celiac disease—many health conscience individuals have followed suit. The truth is packaged gluten-free products are usually higher in sugar and fat to make up for changes in texture and flavour. They also usually use refined flours –meaning the product is lacking in fibre and higher in glycaemic index.
Click Here For Article on Celiac disease

Organic produce

Organic foods are produced without the use of harmful pesticides and chemicals. The result is a cleaner food with minimal harmful residues. If you are buying organic produce make sure that it is certified by the National Association of Sustainable Agriculture, Australia (NASAA) or the Biological Farmers of Australia (BFA). When buying organic food don’t be fooled by the phrases “chemical free”, “organic” or “natural” if the proper certification label is missing. Biodynamic food should also display the Demeter symbol.
Click Here For Article on Organic Food

Reading the ingredients list

The ingredients are listed in order of weight. This means if sugar is one of the first few ingredients in the list—the product is probably very high in sugar. You should also be looking for wholegrain ingredients such as whole wheat or brown rice so that the fibre and nutritional content is higher.

The less ingredients the better—for example a packet of raw almonds would be a healthier choice than roasted almonds which have added salt and vegetable oil. If there are too many big words and numbers on the label that you don’t understand, it may not be a healthy option.

Checking the ingredients list is vital for people who have food allergies—especially anaphylactic reactions. There might symbols present on the packaging to easily identify if a product is free from a certain allergen.

Nutritional panel

If you have never really understood how to read the nutritional panel on food packaging—here’s some easy tips to follow.

100g stats

Any easy way to compare foods is by using the information in the 100g panel. This usually lists the amount of total fat (including various kinds), cholesterol, sodium, carbohydrates, sugar, fibre and protein. It is good to know how much you get of these in a serve but often the serving size put into these panels is far less than what would typically be consumed.

As a general guide, be aware of key cut-offs for these nutrients. Ideally food products should contain:

  • Less than 10g of fat per 100g
  • Less than 3g of saturated fat per 100g
  • Less than 120mg of sodium per 100g
  • No more than 15g of sugar per 100g
  • At least 6g of fibre per 100g

There are some exceptions to these rules. For example, fruit is very high in sugar and nuts and seeds are very high in fats. These are still healthy foods to consume in moderation.

Next time you’re at the supermarket, take the time to read labels to ensure you are making an informed choice. Look for foods that are wholegrain, minimally processed, fresh, made in Australia and follow the recommended cut-offs for key nutrients in the nutritional panel.

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References

https://daa.asn.au/smart-eating-for-you/smart-eating-fast-facts/food-labels/

Campos S, et al. Nutrition labels on pre-packaged foods: a systematic review. Public Health Nutr. 2011 Aug;14(8):1496-506

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21241532

Mozaffarian RS, et al. Identifying whole grain foods: a comparison of different approaches for selecting more healthful whole grain products. Public Health Nutr. 2013 Dec;16(12):2255-64

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23286205

Lawrence MA, et al. Do Nutrient-Based Front-of-Pack Labelling Schemes Support or Undermine Food-Based Dietary Guideline Recommendations? Lessons from the Australian Health Star Rating System. Nutrients. 2018 Jan 5;10(1)

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29303956

Wu JH, et al. Are gluten-free foods healthier than non-gluten-free foods? An evaluation of supermarket products in Australia. Br J Nutr. 2015 Aug 14;114(3):448-54

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26119206

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