Food labelling and provenance has become a hot, but ever more confusing topic.
In a health conscious market where there is an abundance of brands claiming to be ‘free-from’, ‘100 per cent natural’ and with ‘no added sugar’, it is difficult to know which products to trust.
Aiming to simplify this minefield of food labelling is NHS-qualified dietitian, Jo Travers. Despite there being laws in place, the actual meaning behind food labelling may surprise you and the product may not be as healthy as you expect. Next time you pick up a product from the supermarket shelf, check the label and keep Jo’s top tips in mind...
Label says: No added sugar/unsweetened
‘No added sugar’ doesn’t mean that food will have low sugar content. It may contain ingredients (such as concentrated fruit juices) that have a naturally high sugar content that is just as bad for your oral health. It may also contain artificial sweeteners.
Health watch: These labels can be dangerous for diabetics who monitor their sugar intake.
Keep in mind: ‘No added sugar’ doesn’t always mean low calorie count. Added starch can bump up the calorie count. Also, manufacturers often replace sugar with artificial sweeteners and sugar alcohols, such as lacititol, sorbitol and xylitol, which may act as laxatives.
Label says: Light/Lite
This legally has to be 30 per cent lower in at least one typical value (eg fat or sugar) than standard products. Look at the nutritional label on the back of the item for the full picture. A ‘light’ product could contain 30 per cent less fat, but still have the same amount of calories as a standard version of the product.
Health watch: Sugar levels in these foods may be high, so check the ingredients list. It’s a useful tool to use short-term, though, as a low-fat diet is linked to a lower risk of heart disease, diabetes and some cancers.
Keep in mind: Portion control of healthy foods is a better way to lose weight.
Label says: All natural/100% natural
These products don’t contain artificial colours, flavours or preservatives and have no synthetic ingredients. They also won’t have been pasteurised, bleached or hydrogenated, but may have been smoked, baked or distilled.
Health watch: There’s no research that proves that natural products are better for you. Most food additives, while chemical-sounding, haven’t been shown to be bad for you.
Keep in mind: Something ‘natural’ can still have loads of sugar, fat or calories. Check the ingredients list and the nutrition-facts panel.
Label says: Free-from
‘Free-from’ claims don’t always mean what you might expect. For example, ‘alcohol-free’ on a bottle of beer doesn’t mean it contains no alcohol. By law, it must contain less than 0.5 per cent. And gluten-free and wheat-free foods will almost inevitably contain very slight traces, according to the Institute of Food Science & Technology.
Health watch: Traces can affect anyone who suffers from very severe allergies. Contact the manufacturer if ever in any doubt.
Keep in mind: Always check the ingredients and look for ‘may contain traces of’.
Label says: Low fat
This means products contain less than 3g fat per 100g, but ‘low fat’ spreads, governed by EU regulations, are an exception. They are allowed to contain 40 per cent fat, which is more than in whipping cream.
Health watch: Trimming fat from your diet can help lower overall calorie intake, but don’t banish it altogether. Aim to get 25-35 per cent of your total calories from food with good fats, such as olive oils, nuts, seeds, avocados and oily fish, like salmon and mackerel.
Keep in mind: When removing fat, manufacturers often add extra sugar or starch to keep products palatable.
Label says: Freshly squeezed
The orange juice is made from oranges not concentrate, hasn’t been pasteurised and shouldn’t contain any added sugar.
Health watch: A study by Ciudad University in Madrid found that buying ‘freshly squeezed’ because you think it’s healthier might be a waste of money – unless you drink it within minutes of it being squeezed, as the vitamin content deteriorates very quickly. Juices sold in supermarkets have similar nutritional characteristics.
Keep in mind: Fresh juice has about eight spoonfuls of sugar (fructose) in each glass, which makes it almost as calorific as cola.
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