Understanding Food Labels and Nutrient Content Claims

You might not be surprised to hear this, but going to the supermarket is one of our favourite activities here at KOJA, probably given the fact that it is home to our ever so delicious Natural Peanut Butter Bars! 

For others, we understand that going to the supermarket can be quite stressful. Not only are you trying to collect the items from your shopping list as quickly as possible, but you are also being exposed to thousands of products that are fighting for a spot in your trolley. It can be overwhelming and confusing to say the least, which is why we are here to help. 

If you’ve ever picked up a product and wondered if it's actually as healthy as it claims to be, you are not alone. Navigating food labels is a tedious task in itself and can often leave you feeling more confused than ever.

We have collated our top tips and tricks to make your trip to the supermarket as care-free and enjoyable as possible, and to ensure you aren’t tricked by clever marketing to persuade you into buying products that are neither satisfying for your body or your bank account! 

Be mindful of Nutrient Content Claims. 

Nutrient content claims and health claims are voluntary statements made by food companies on labels. They are phrases such as ‘low in fat’ or ‘good source of calcium’ and those alike. Fortunately, businesses have to abide by a range of guidelines formulated by Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) - the peak body of food labelling in Australia, before placing a statement on their product. While you might think this means you can put your full trust into a product, think again!

Many businesses have found ways around the labelling laws to mislead you into believing their product is healthier than it actually is. 

Here are a few examples: 

Lite/Light: Typically we would associate these terms with a product that is ‘lighter’ in fat, sugar or overall calories. Whilst this can be the case, it can also be referring to the texture or colour. If you are unsure, don’t forget to check the Nutrition Information Panel and Ingredients List. 

Natural: Despite popular belief, the word natural is not a regulated term. This means that anyone, and we mean anyone can use this word on their products (yes, that includes confectionary). Trust your judgement, if it seems too good to be true it probably is. 

No Added Sugar: Keep in mind that no added sugar doesn’t mean low sugar. All this term indicates is that no sugar has been added during processing. Let’s take a date-based protein bar for example, these varieties can have up to 6 tsp of sugars per bar but can still label themselves as ‘no added sugar’.  Its quite misleading isn’t it?.  

Reduced Fat: Again, reduced fat does not mean low-fat. If a product is labelled as ‘reduced fat’ it is just lower in overall fat in comparison to its original counterpart. 

Diet: We are led to believe that diet products are better because they tend to be lower in calories. Diet products are often filled to the brim with artificial sweeteners or sugar alcohols that are poorly absorbed in the gut and can lead to digestive discomfort. 

Plant-based: Plant-based eating is gaining more traction in the health and wellness space, and for good reason at that. Food and marketing companies have caught onto the popularity and benefits of plant-based living and are now using the term on their labels to yet again, persuade you into thinking their products are more nutritious than they are. Remember, chips and lollies are technically ‘plant-based’, yet this doesn’t mean they are healthy. (Yes they can be enjoyed in moderation of course but you see what we mean!) 

Gluten-Free: If you have coeliac disease or a gluten intolerance/sensitivity then it is absolutely necessary for you to purchase gluten free foods. Otherwise, gluten-free foods are in no way superior to gluten-containing foods. Gluten does not promote inflammation in the body or contribute to weight gain. Gluten-free varieties are also not necessarily lower in energy, fat, sugar or salt compared to other foods on the market. 

High Protein: Protein seems like it can do no wrong at the moment. Everywhere you look there is high protein products hitting our shelves and even manufacturers  are adding synthetic sources of protein to foods you would never believe. Yes, there is such a thing as high-protein ice-cream! We hate to be the bearer of bad news, but adding protein (in whatever shape or form) to a processed food does not automatically make it healthy, sorry! 

We say it time and time again, but always refer to the nutrition information panel or ingredients list to make an educated choice about what you choose to feed yourself and your family. At the end of the day if you prioritise whole foods, fresh fruits and vegetables, lean sources of protein and wholegrain carbohydrates in your diet you are doing wonders for yourself, your health and for the planet!

Written by Accredited Practising Dietitian and Accredited Nutritionist Millie Padula, founder of Dietitian Edition.