Label Reading 101 - Health claims on food packaging
Health claims on food packaging, what do they mean?
Trying to choose healthy food for your family can be hard work. It’s difficult to know what to make of the health claims plastered over foods. Food companies want you to buy their product so they will highlight the words they want you to see.
That’s not to say they can get away with anything on their food label, all food companies must adhere to the Food Code (See note 1). However a claim on a food may not point out less healthy aspects of that food. In the previous blog Label Reading 101 - Remember 10, 10, 5!, I talked about what to look out for on the nutrition information panel. Knowing how to do this will help you navigate your way around the food claims and make your food choices just that little bit easier.
In an ideal world our diet would be made up of mostly vegetables, fruits, protein sources such lean meats, chicken, fish, eggs, legumes, nuts, seeds and grains with very little processed foods. The reality is that most people (me included) do buy packaged foods as it’s easier, sometimes more cost effective and convenient so here’s some things to look out for on your packaged foods and hopefully help you to make informed decisions about what you are buying.
Here are some examples of the common health claims we might see on our food packaging:
‘Lite’, ‘Light’ or ‘Reduced’
These claims can be made in relation to energy, fat, carbohydrate, sugar and salt. They need to have 25% less of that nutrient than the regular product for this claim to be made. So yes, they may be healthier than their original product but still might not be the best choice out there.
These words can also refer to the colour or flavour of a product too, for example, extra light olive oil is a lighter colour and does not differ in nutrition content to other olive oils.
No added sugar
This is super common on foods such as fruit juices or kids snacks, there may not be any added refined sugar such as table sugar but they can still be very high sugar choices as the sugar comes from natural sources such as dried fruit, fruit paste, juice, honey or maple syrup. Fresh fruit juice with no added sugar still has a heck of a lot of sugar in it from the natural sugar found in fruit. You would need 5-6 oranges to make a glass of juice but would you have 5-6 fresh oranges in one sitting? Probably not. Lots of kids snacks have this claim on it too but a quick check of the nutrition information panel would see the sugar content still fairly high with the sugar coming from fruit paste, purees or juice.
99% fat free or 99% sugar free
Often these foods would never have fat or sugar added to them so they are extremely misleading. Pick up a packet of lollies and it will claim to be 99% fat free… last time I checked lollies were pure sugar so it’s not surprising there’s no fat in them.
So armed with this knowledge, the best thing to do is pick up your food of interest, turn it over and have a good look at the nutrition information panel and ingredient list to cut straight to it and pick the best foods for you and your family.