By GMB Health Ambassador, Dietitian Chloe McLeod
Whilst there has been a shift at the supermarket with many new health products arising made from real, unprocessed and whole ingredients - free from artificial additives, many 'Big Food' companies are trying to capitalise on the popularity of the 'health' movement.
Products are often packaged to ‘look’ healthy, when in reality, the ingredients look more like what you’d find in the less healthy sections of the supermarket!
Here are my top 10 common food labeling tricks, and how to avoid them:
Imagine this: you’re at the shops, and pick up the yoghurt that looks like it is one individual serving size. You check out the label, and ‘per serve’, it’s looking pretty good overall. You place in the trolley, and continue on your way… Fast forward to when you get home, and as you’re enjoying this delicious product, you notice that the serving size, and the quantity of serves in the packet don’t quite match up. Somehow, in this 150g pack there is actually 1.3 serves. What the?
Many companies use this technique to make their products appear lower in fat, sugar, salt and calories overall, even though it is unlikely that that 0.3 of a serve will be left for later.
How to combat? Always check out the per 100g column, as this is where you’ll always have a consistent quantity to compare against.
Baked not fried
Whilst if you’re baking something at home, it will very often be healthier if you bake it rather than frying, however this is not necessarily the case with buying packaged food. Quite often, the product will be placed on the tray, sprayed generously with oil (that is quite often poorer quality vegetable oil), then baked… so frying may as well have happened.
How to combat? This claim is often on the front of the label. Check the ingredients and nutrition panel to see if suitable. If not, place back on the shelf.
No added sugar
Just because sugar hasn’t been added, it doesn’t necessarily mean the food or drink will be low in sugar. Fruit juice is a fantastic example of this. One cup of orange juice has the contents of approximately 6 oranges, meaning the sugar content of them too, but without the fibre in most instances. Some fruit juices can have just as much, if not more, sugar as soft drinks.
How to combat? Minimise consumption of fruit juice. Choose water as your drink of choice, and if looking for a juice, choose one that is made predominantly from vegetables.
Claims of fat free in the past may have been thought to mean a healthier choice, however these days that is not the only thing we need to consider. Many fat free foods will have salt and sugar added to up the flavour, meaning not so healthy anyway.
How to combat? Choose foods that are as minimally processed as possible, with fat coming from healthy sources, such as olive oil, nuts and seeds as your best choice.
'Natural’ looking packaging
It looks healthy with that packaging… so that must mean it is… right? Many companies use packaging as a marketing tool, to encourage consumers to pick up their products under the perception theyre healthy, simply because of the colour and style of their packaging.
How to combat? Always flip the product over and check out the nutrition information panel and ingredients list before determining if it’s a healthy choice or not.
Claims of ‘light’ or ‘lite’ can refer to flavour, texture, colour… nearly anything. Light doesn’t really help too much in determining if a food is healthy or not. For example, some olive oils state this on the front. It will often mean that that product is actually lighter in colour. Next time you’re at the shops, hold the oil up to the light and check it out!
How to combat? If something is making this claim on the front, there is very likely a better option around, that is less processed.
Alternative names for fat, sugar and salt
Fruit juice. Milk solids. Sodium from garlic. Also known as sugar, fat and salt. Use of more complex names for these nutrients are often used, and are easy to confuse or miss if uninformed.
How to combat? It’s a good idea to get familiar with some of the common ones, and remember; if a source of fat, sugar or salt is the first ingredient, there may be a better option available to choose.
Natural. All natural. Organic. Gluten free.
Just because something is ‘natural’, organic, or gluten free it does not mean that food is not high in certain nutrients we want to avoid. It’s easy to be tricked into thinking that a product that has the above attributes is automatically healthier. A cake, biscuit, bar or chip that is natural/organic/gluten free is still a cake, biscuit, bar or chip; these foods are sometimes foods, and aren’t recommended for daily consumption for most individuals, despite their other claims. Sugar in particularly is still often high in these products, which often include muesli bars and raw treat or desserts.
How to combat? As above, flip the product over and check out the nutrition information panel and ingredients list before determining if it’s a healthy choice or not. If you’d like to include it purely as you enjoy it… well go right ahead! But remember to include in moderation.
Cage Free/Free Range
You may remember the expose from last year, showing that many companies who were claiming their eggs to be cage free and/or free range were not quite doing this as we would expect. The Model Code of Practice states there should be a maximum of 1500 hens per hectare, however many brands keep up to 10,000 per hectare.
How to combat? Check out Choice’ new app Cluck AR to see if your favourite brand is in line with quality that is required to make these claims in Australia, and if it isn’t, some options of which to switch over to!
Most of us have probably seen the wraps and breads in the supermarket with ‘Multi-grain’ emblazoned across the front. How often though do these products look like they’re made from refined flour, with just some seeds and/or grains added in? This is because they often are. As such, this claim is not something which should be used to help you choose a healthier option, as it is highly likely the product is made from highly refined flour, is low in fibre and (often) high in unhealthy fats or salt. This means it is not as healthy as it may initially seem.
How to combat? Flip the product over and look at the ingredients list to see what the product is made from, then have a look at the nutrient information panel, with a particular focus on fibre content.
It can be so easy to be misled when choosing healthy packaged products. If you’d like more information, head over and download GoodnessMe Box Label Reading Guide – is a super handy resource to help you determine just what you need to be looking for on the label.