Tuesday 8 April 2014

Food Labelling - What you should look for!

Hi All

Learning how to understand and interpret food labels is an essential tool for anyone keen to improve their nutrition.  Have you ever looked at the label on the back of a food packet and struggled to understand what it actually means?

A survey (BBC News, 2005) found that out of 70 products tested for 570 nutrients only 7% actually matched the stated values, and almost one fifth contained levels outside of the generous 20% margin of error, so remember that although the labels may be helpful, they may also not be that accurate!

'Healthy' Foods

In the last 20 years the media has played a significant role in making us all more aware of the damage that a poor diet can have upon our health.  The food industry, as a result, have modified their marketing strategy to appeal to a population that is becoming more health conscious.  Many terms and phrases are used such as 'low in salt', 'low fat' and 'sugar free' - which is what we've been programmed to understand as 'better' food, but do you know what the legal requirement's are for food to be labeled as such?

'Health' Labels
  •  'Light, low, reduced or high' - there are no specific guidelines for these terms, other than they should not mislead.
  • 'Reduced or low fat' - must be at least 25% lower in fat than the original, but often calories are maintained by adding other ingredients.
  • 'low calorie' - must have lower calories than the original, but at no set level (so it could be 1 or 2 calories lower, and still be labelled 'low calorie').
  • 'sugar free' - sugar has not been added, but almost always an artificial sweetner has been used for taste.
E Numbers

Once upon a time it was bad to have an 'E' number in your food, as a result manufacturers now use the technical term for the additives (of which the public are mostly unaware), therefore it is also important to look out for the following when choosing foods;

  • sugar
  • dextrose
  • glucose syrup
  • glucose-fructose syrup
  • inverted sugar syrup
  • high fructose corn starch
  • mannitol
  • xylitol
  • sorbitol
  • maltodextrin
All of the above are refined sugars which are mildly addictive and contain empty calories.

When the E numbers are on foods, this is what they mean;

E100s - are colourings
E200s - are mostly preservatives
E300s - are antioxidants, acidity regulators and anti-caking agents
E400s - are emulsifiers, thickeners, stabilisers and geling agents
E900s - are generally waxes, sugars and sweeteners

Monosodium Glutamate (MSG)

This is added to foods as a flavour enhancer, it has been linked to obesity due to it's mildly addictive qualities and the effects that is has on the hypothalamic region of the brain affecting appetite. It's one thing that you definitely don't want to be eating, ironically it can be found in lots of 'diet' products (not good if it actually increases your appetite!).  MSG (E621) is only required by law to be added to the ingredient list if it is added in its pure form, therefore look out for any of the following as these will indicate that it is there;

  • yeast extract
  • hydrolysed protein
  • whey protein isolate
  • soy protein isolate
  • carrageenan
  • most 'natural' flavourings

Things to Avoid
  • processed food in general
  • fast foods
  • confectionary
  • soft drinks and cordials
  • pre-packaged meals
  • refined baked goods (pastries, cakes)
  • 'low fat' foods or 'healthy' options
  • cheap sausages, burgers or pies
 Do Eat
  • organic foods where possible
  • use whole, fresh produce
  • home baked products - you get to choose the ingredients

 Always read the lables - you never know what's lurking in there.....!!