Yeah I’m one of those people. I’ll pick up product after product, turn it over, possibly curse at it first, “where are the bloody ingredients?! Oh, there they are! Why do they make it so small?" And read, while everyone swishes past me.
Unless it’s a product I buy on a regular basis, I will read the nutritional information before placing it in my trolley (or back on the shelf). This is an important skill to have if you want to eat a healthy diet. But even more important for those who have specific dietary requirements.
Many of us think we know how to read food labels; however, it’s a lot more complicated than most realise. For example, picking up a product that has words such as ‘natural’, or ‘no added MSG’, or ‘lite’ are more often than not, completely misleading. They may be legal, but not really the whole truth.
So what do we pay attention to? Well firstly, please take those “claims” on label with a grain of salt. Or a grain of sugar if you have a sweet tooth. Be sceptical. Flip the product over and focus on the Nutritional Information Panel and the Ingredient List.
Label reading 101
If the product contains more than 5 ingredients, this is when you should become sceptical, as it is likely to contain additives, however not always.
The ingredients are listed in descending order by weight. This means that the ingredient which contributes the most weight is listed first.
Many companies are now disguising food additives under fancy names to avoid putting numbers on their labels. This is because they now know that consumers are aware of food additive numbers. This is a great way to trick those who are unaware of the actual names.
"Flavours" can mean anything and we don't know what are in these "flavours". They are trade secrets. Be aware.
Don't forget to read the nutritional information panel to understand how much energy, fat, sugar, sodium and/or fibre the product contains.
Watch out for the sugar content. Manufacturers often break down the amount of sugar to make it look like there is less than there actually is. For example, if sugar was the largest contributing ingredient, instead of putting "Sugar" or "Sucrose" on the label as the first listed ingredient, they may break it down into "Glucose" and "Fructose". This results in these ingredients being listed further down the list as each weighs less. They can also use multiple types of sugars to achieve the same result, such as glucose, maple syrup, brown sugar, honey etc.
NO ADDED MSG does not mean that there are not other forms of MSG-type chemicals added. And this is often the case. Be aware of this if you are sensitive to flavour enhancers.
Misleading Label Claims
Reduced Fat: The product must have at least 25% less fat than the original product. This doesn't mean it's not high in fat. It may also be high in sugar, and sugar is ultimately is stored as fat anyway.
Source of fibre: Must contain greater than 1g of fibre per 100g.
High Fibre: Must contain greater than 3g of fibre per 100g.
No added Sugar: It may still be high in natural sugar, such as fruit juices.
Cholesterol Free: This doesn't necessarily mean low fat. Cholesterol is only found in animal fat. So, vegetable oils are naturally cholesterol free, however are 100% fat.
Light or Lite: This doesn't necessarily mean low in fat or calories. It may mean lightly toasted, light in salt, light in taste, or even light in colour!
Diet: Often means it has been artificially sweetened.
Some Alternative Names for Sugar
Sucrose, dextrose, fructose, glucose, golden syrup, honey, maple syrup, corn syrup, fruit syrup, monosaccharides, disaccharides, malt, maltose, mannitol, lactose, brown sugar, caster sugar, maple syrup, raw sugar, molasses, syrup, fruit juice concentrate, sorbitol, xylitol and modified carbohydrate.
Some High Salt Ingredients
Baking powder, celery salt, garlic salt, meat/yeast extract, monosodium glutamate, (MSG), onion salt, rock salt, sea salt, sodium, sodium ascorbate, sodium bicarbonate, sodium nitrate/nitrite, stock cubes, vegetable salt.
This is just a short overview of label reading. There is much more to understand that I can’t cover in a short blog post. I will be going into much more detail in my course. But for now, happy label reading 😊