What's really in our food? Deciphering food labels

Consumer NZ Belinda Castles exposes nine tricks of the trade that can mask the not-so-good things in the food we buy.

Last week a friend (who is a registered dietitian) and I gave a talk about healthy eating and reading food labels to our local kindy families. Our kindy has a strong focus on healthy eating so it was great we were given the opportunity to share our knowledge. Here are some tricks of the trade we discussed so you’re not fooled in the supermarket aisle.

  1. Added vitamins and minerals: These are often added to foods and drinks. But you need to check the fine print in the Nutrition Information Panel. Many foods, such as kids’ cereals and flavoured drinks claim added extras but are also chock-full of sugar.
  2. Light or lite: This could mean anything! It may mean less energy, sugar or fat. But it could also refer to the colour or flavour, such as light olive oil which is light in flavour.
  3. Good source of energy: This probably means the food is high in energy or kilojoules. And you need to watch the ones high in sugar such as some breakfast cereals.
  4. Cholesterol-free: We call this one the “invisible bonus”. It tends to appear on products that wouldn’t have cholesterol anyway because dietary cholesterol is only found in animal products. Dietary cholesterol has little effect on your blood cholesterol levels; it’s more important to cut back on saturated and trans fats.
  5. Baked not fried: Crackers and chippies often make this claim. It sounds good because we all know fried equals fat. But baked products may still contain as much fat as fried foods if they contain fat to start with.
  6. Made with real fruit: Many products claim to be “made with real fruit” but you need to check the ingredients list to see how much real fruit they contain. In some cases it’s a ploy to make a sugary junk food sound healthier than it is.
  7. 5+ a day: We’re all familiar with the good advice to eat 5+a day. But you should ignore products claiming to provide most of these daily serves in one hit. In the case of fruit or vegetable juice you’ll be getting less fibre than eating whole fruit, and possibly a sodium hit too.
  8. Meaningless ticks: To boost a product’s appeal, some products are covered with ticks which often have nothing to do with their nutritional content. Read the fine print to check what the tick is referring to.
  9. Premium, pure, real, natural: Words like these can influence what we buy. But there’s no guarantee they’ll deliver. There’s no legal definition for the use of these terms, so the product may be no better or different from other products on the supermarket shelf.

To make sure you’re supermarket savvy ignore the claims and always check the nutrition information panel and ingredients list.



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