Confused about nutrition labels on foods?
Stumped by whether to look at “Per 100 g” or “Per serving”? Baffled by what the figures actually mean? Well you’re not alone. But luckily you don’t have to be a food scientist or Nutritionist to get your brain around the labels, and by the end of this article you will (hopefully) be making wiser and more informed food choices when it comes to your weekly shop.
The legal bit…
Packaging for foodstuffs is a highly controlled and strict regulation, and companies cannot go around putting any old jargon on their products. There are a list of mandatory requirements that a supplier must display on their packaging (such as the name of the food, a list of the ingredients, allergen information and so on…).
As of December 2016, declaring nutritional content on products was no longer on a voluntary basis, and “all companies supplying pre-packaged foods to consumers must, by law, provide a ‘nutrition declaration’ on the back of packaging”. ‘Front
of pack’ labelling is still on a voluntary basis, and the new law allows companies to repeat nutrition declarations on the front of their packaging. The idea behind this is to provide at-a-glance nutrition information, so that the busy consumer can make a speedy but informed dietary decision. A little confused? Bear with…
When it comes to our diets, we, as consumers, are becoming increasingly short on time and increasingly reliant on convenience. For this reason, there have been some significant changes to the layout of nutrition labels. This is where the traffic light system comes into play, and allows consumers to make quick decisions on the “healthiness” of foods they are buying. This is all well and good, but is the decision informed and understood? Do shoppers know why these foods are “Green” for sugar but “Red” for fat content? And can they be relied upon solidly for making healthier choices?
Did you know…
- Low Fat foods are often replaced with sugar; fat is tasty, and when it is removed it needs to be replaced with something equally as appetising – calling sugar!
- Nutrition declarations are mandatory on the “back of pack” labelling, but voluntary on “front of pack”. Most companies will display front of pack labelling, but TOP TIP if there is no nutrition information on the front of pack it would be recommended to turn over and have a read.
- * Not everything needs to have a nutrition label – exemptions include fresh fruit and vegetables that have not been prepared, herbs and spices, tea and coffee, flours, some vinegars, and any drink with an alcoholic strength above 1.2%.
- The traffic light system is very black and white (or red, amber, green…) – in other words, it allows consumers to make a “yes” or “no” food choice without consider any of the other nutritional values of a food. High fat does not necessarily mean bad, and conversely a food that is low in fat does not necessarily mean it is the healthier option. Take low fat yoghurt, for example – Tesco Greek Style Natural Yogurt contains 9.5 g of Fat and 5.4 g of Sugar per 100g; the Low Fat version contains one third of the amount of fat, but comes in at 7 g of sugar per 100 g.
Calories aren’t the only measure of whether a food is healthy or not.
- Remember to look at the serving suggestion – don’t be fooled into thinking that “per 100 g” is the serving size. Equally, portion sizes are often a lot smaller on packs than in reality (who realistically only has 30 g of cereal in the mornings…).
- The ingredients list on the back of packaging is listed in order of weight/quantity; i.e. the first ingredient in the list is present in the largest amount. So if the first ingredient is sugar, you can pretty much go ahead and put it back on the shelf.