Lets be honest.
Food labelling, reasonably useful at the best of times mostly confusing the rest of it.
So what prompted me to write this post? I was browsing through a nutrition forum earlier in the week, and two experts were going at it like two silver back gorillas about what the content of a mustard product actually was (while no milk was listed in the ingredients, it stated in bold at the bottom "contains milk"). This was two bonafide experts, who couldn't agree (or were just happy to sling mud at each other for other deep rooted reasons)
So I got to thinking, now if these experts don't agree, how much more confused must the average person be? Or just wildly misinformed? This post aims to set a few things straight for you.
7 Things you need to know about food labels.
1) Fat Free and Low Fat Foods
Fat Free food means that the fat content must not exceed 0.15 grams per 100 grams. It does't necessarily mean there is no fat in the food.
With Low Fat foods the total fat content must not exceed 5 grams per 100 grams, Plus the total fat content of a standard serving cannot exceed 5 grams and less than 30% of the total calories are from fat.
Now here is one you want to watch out for. Reduced Fat foods must contain less than 75% fat content (per 100 grams). This doesn't mean that its a healthy option, just that it contains less fat than the alternative.
2) Low Calorie Foods & Drinks
Low calorie foods must contain less than 40Kcal per 100 gram.
Low calorie drinks must contain less than 10Kcal per 100ml. Again just because it is low calorie, doesn't mean it's healthy.
Under EU regulations allergenic ingredients must be clearly emphasised within the ingredients list. Allergens are bold in the ingredients list.
4) "May Contain.."
This is voluntary labelling by food manufacturers, and just good practice to just indicate a possibility of an allergen. For example, "May contain traces of nuts"
5) Ingredients are listed in descending order of their weight, with the largest ingredient first.
6) If there is a real risk of a food coming into contact with an allergen you'll see phrases such as
"Not suitable for those with an allergy to egg, milk, or peanuts due to manufacturing methods."
Gluten Fee and Very Low Gluten
The European Union Commission compositional and labelling standards have established levels gluten that are acceptable for foods that claim to be "Gluten Free" or "Very Low Gluten" (if you want to check it out its Commission Regulation (EC) No. 41/2009).
What are those standards?
Gluten Free - 20 parts or less of gluten per million.
Very Low Gluten - 100 parts of less of gluten per million. But did you know that only foods with cereal ingredients that have been specially processed can make the claim of "Very Low Gluten."?
7) Free Range V Organic
According to the Soil Association, "In organic farming systems, animals are reared without the routine use of drugs, antibiotics and wormers common in intensive livestock farming." This doesn't necessarily mean that your meat was reared in more humane conditions than its counterpart, plus as pointed out by PETA, if the animal becomes sick it will not be given antibiotics as it will lose its organic status.
When it comes to your vegetables, fruit and grain, it doesn't mean no chemicals were used, it simply means that less chemicals were used (levels set to soil association standards).
So according to PETA,
"Hens on large-scale commercial cage-free farms are not kept in cages as the birds on standard egg factory farms are, but the difference usually stops there. Most still have their sensitive beaks cut off with a hot blade and are crammed together in filthy sheds. They never go outside, breathe fresh air, feel the sun on their backs, or do anything else that is natural or important to them."
Surprised to learn that? If you are eating Free Range or Organic for ethical reasons you may want to consider getting your produce from small local farms rather than a supermarket. This way they are less likely to be intensively farmed, and at least you get to quiz the farmers directly.
If you have no ethical concerns, then this doesn't apply. Simply crack on.
Now that you are armed with this invaluable information, next time you are out shopping, hopefully you can make better food choices and navigate yourself through the mess of food labels with relative ease.