Misleading food labels.
The truth behind their health claims.
October 15th 2015
In today's society, consumers are bombarded with food packages that advertise their products as being gluten free, low fat, dairy free, low carb, fat reduced, sugar free etc. But what exactly do each of these health claims actually mean? I think you will be surprised to find out that many of these health claims are actually misleading, and do not necessarily mean that a given product is healthier than another product. Below is a list of health claims commonly advertised on products, with an explanation of what each one really means. Be prepared to look at food packages in a whole new light.
There is a common misconception that gluten free means that the product is healthy. In reality gluten free refers to any products that do not contain gluten, which is commonly found in barley, rye and wheat. Gluten free products have been designed for individuals suffering from coeliac disease, a condition whereby an individual cannot breakdown and digest gluten without abdominal discomfort. Therefore unless you suffer from coeliac disease there is absolutely no nutritional benefit to consuming these products. In fact the nutritional composition of these foods can actually be worse for you. This is due to the fact that in order to achieve a similar flavour and texture to original products, gluten free alternatives often contain more sugar and fat and fewer vitamins and minerals. Not to mention that gluten free products are much more expensive than normal food products.
‘Light’ or ‘Lite’ Products
It is understandable that when you see these health claims, you immediately associate the product with being lighter in kilojoules that alternative products. However this is simply not the case. When food manufacturers use ‘light’ or ‘lite’ labels of their packaging it can refer to a number of different things including that the product is light in colour, texture, weight, salt and/or fat. It is therefore important to read the nutritional panel of these products to find out what the ‘light’ or ‘lite’ health claim is referring to.
‘Reduced Fat’ Products
In order for a product to use a reduced fat label, their product must have 25% less fat than it’s full fat alternative. Therefore it is important to remember that just because a product has reduced fat it may still have an excessive amount of fat per serving.
‘Low Salt’ Vs ‘No Added Salt’ Products
A ‘Low Salt’ health claim means that a product does not contain more than 120mg sodium per 100g. This therefore is a great low salt food product. In contrast however a ‘No Added Salt’ health claim means that during the manufacturing process no salt was added to the product, however does not consider the salt levels naturally occurring in the food. Therefore take caution with these products and read the nutritional panel in further detail to find out the amount of sodium present in the food product.
‘Low Sugar’, ‘No Added Sugar’, ‘Sugar Free’ and ‘Unsweetened’ Products
Similarly to above, all of these health claims mean different things. No added sugar means that no sugar or like products can be added to the product during manufacturing. Therefore sugar content must be assessed to consider the amount of naturally occurring sugar in the food. A low sugar product must have less than 5g of sugar per 100g. A sugar free product must have zero sugar content, however can use artificial sweeteners. Finally, unsweetened foods cannot contain any added sugar or artificial sweeteners.
‘Low Fat’ Vs ‘Fat Free’ Products
By definition, in order to use a low fat health claim the product must contain less than 3g per 100g. In contrast a fat free product must not contain more than 0.5g fat per 100g. Although these statistics may sound appealing, consumers should be aware than many food manufacturers add sugar to these products to compensate for the low fat content. Therefore these low fat products can actually be extremely high in kilojoules and are not necessarily considered healthier. So as you can see, there are many factors to consider when determining whether a product is healthy or not.
Given that health claims are commonly misleading, it is important to understand how to accurately read the nutritional panel on a food product. More importantly once you know how to read a nutritional panel, you need to know the ideal composition of nutrients to look for. For more information on how to read food labels and what you should be looking for read my next blog “The art of reading food labels and interpreting the products nutritional composition”.