Label Lingo

Legally a label is required to provide accurate information on the product you are purchasing. So what’ s in the food we eat???

In Australia it is a legal requirement that all packaged foods must be labelled to provide the consumer with information regarding the product they are purchasing. Separating the marketing hype from the information is essential if you want to know exactly what you are eating.

At best labels provide accurate, informative and understandable information, at the other end of the scale they are confusing or purposely misleading.

A standard package has 4 areas of interest to the consumer:

1. Claims

These claims can be splashed all over labels, some will be accurate, some misleading, it is your job as a consumer to take the information they provide and make your own choice.

97% Fat Free
Often consumers mistakenly believe that 97% of the fat content has been removed, actually 3% of the whole product is fat. Also, it should be noted that often this claim is placed on a product that is naturally low in fat but may instead contain high quantities of sugar. Even worse because removing fat also removes taste, often producers add in sugar.

Reduced Fat
These foods are generally lower in fat than similar products, although it is possible for these products to remain relatively high in fat. It is important to measure fat in grams not in arbitrary terms.

1g of fat = 32 kilojoules no matter what the source. Polyunsaturated products are sometimes mistakenly perceived as being less fattening.

Cooked in Vegetable Oil
The number of kilojoules in 1g of fat remains the same regardless of its source. It is true that some fats of vegetable origin are better than animal fats which are saturated. Following on from this...Trans fats are a type of unsaturated fat that behaves like a saturated fat because of its chemical structure. It increases our risk of heart disease by increasing the “ bad” LDL cholesterol, while also lowering the “ good” HDL cholesterol in our blood. These should be avoided. 

Gluten Free / Lactose Free / Dairy Free / Wheat Free / Nut Free
Many people feel physically better if they avoid some of the above ingredients, the above claim is important for people that are intolerant or allergic to the above. People with true allergies would need to read the actual ingredient list, do not rely on the marketing claim on the packet.

Cholesterol Free
Only animal products contain cholesterol, so any food made from plants is automatically cholesterol free. This does not mean it is fat free!

Salt Reduced
This indicates the product has less salt than similar products, usually 1/3 to 1/2 less.

This is probably the most confusing claim as it could be referring to any characteristic of the product. For example, in comparison to similar products, “ Lite” chips have less salt but equal fat content, Light oils have a milder taste but equal fat content, light cake is nice and fluffy but contains all the sugars and fats we are trying to avoid. 

 2. Ingredients

This should be relatively straight forward. Ingredients are listed from most to least. Sometimes similar ingredients are listed with different names, eg. sugars come in many forms, look at the total content in the nutritional analysis box to ensure you are not over consuming. 

 3. Nutritional Analysis

This panel will give you a breakdown of the macro nutrients, ie, protein, fat and carbohydrate in addition to the micronutrients which may include a variety of vitamins and minerals. By law these panels must be accurate and are therefore the best place to source your information. Each panel will provide the above information on a recommended serving size and 100g/ml.

Nutritional Information 
Serving Size 50g
Nutrient Per 50g per 100g 
Energy   765kj 1530kj 
Protein   5.2g 10.4g
Fat  1.0g 2.0g
       total  40.1g 80.2g
       sugars 1.2g 2.4g 
Fibre 1.9g 3.8g
Sodium 600mg 1200mg
Potassium 70mg 140mg

4. Additives

There are 12 major classes of additives that are permitted. They include: 

  • anti-oxidants
  • flavours
  • mineral salts
  • artificial sweeteners
  • flavour enhancers
  • vegetable gums
  • emulsifiers
  • colours
  • preservatives
  • food acids
  • humectants
  • thickeners

 These additives will either increase shelf life or make the food more “ palatable”. What they do for our health is questionable, many individuals have negative reactions to these, such as behavioural, skin and breathing issues. This is especially true for children.

  Label Lingo pdf