These pesky nutrition claims!
In second year of Uni (2015) I spent almost a whole semester investigating the truth and misconceptions behind a number of nutrition and health claims on some of the most commonly purchased food products in the supermarkets.
Food Standards Australia and New Zealand (FSANZ) are an agency that develop and administer the food standards code. On this website they have their code listed in full with all requirements outlined here. Foods are supposed to comply with this code; unfortunately the code is rarely policed and enforcement only really happens if someone gets sick, if something goes terribly wrong, etc.
So let’s take a look at some common claims and what should you keep an eye out for?
|Claim||Meaning||Possible misconception||Example of misconception|
|Light/lite||Can refer to the product being low in fat or energy or refers to the products texture or colour||People do not think that a product labeled as “lite/light” literally means the product does not weigh much or has a fluffy light texture! They instead think its low in fat or energy, which often isn’t the case!||Malteasers claim they are ‘the lighter way to enjoy chocolate.’ This claim is literal as they don’t weigh much|
|No/low cholesterol||There is no cholesterol in the product||Plant based products will NEVER have cholesterol in them as cholesterol only exists in meat and other products derived from animals, so it is a pointless claim.||Nuts are sometimes labeled ‘no cholesterol’, also avocados can be labeled ‘cholesterol free’|
|Reduced fat||The product contains at least 25% less fat than a comparator product (usually a full fat product made by the same brand)||Just because a product is reduced fat, it could still contain more fat than a product from another brand||
|Baked not fried||The claim literally means what it says||This claim is pointless if the product has been baked with just as much fat as if it were fried- often these products are still very high in fat (check my previous post to read total fat and saturated fat readings on labels).||Shapes are ‘baked not fried’ yet still contain 20-25% fat|
|No artificial colours, flavours or additives||This claim means what it says, however there is strong emphasis on the word artificial…||There’s still additives in the product that are considered ‘natural’ or ‘nature-identical.’ Also, ‘no flavours’ does not exclude flavour enhancers (such as MSG).||Lean Cuisine meals have this claim yet contain flavour enhancers and additives which is confusing, however technically not a breach|
|Fresh||The product has not been frozen, canned, exposed to high temperatures or undergone chemical treatment||The product does not mean that it has recently been picked or packaged. ‘Fresh’ products may have been refrigerated for a while and travelled over the country to be transported||
Remember that the real ‘food superstars’ are the foods that aren’t in packaging and are therefore unlikely to have associated health claims on them (fruit and veg for example). So whilst these claims can be helpful when doing the weekly food shop, don’t let it be your primary focus. I believe that it’s best to read the nutrition information panels and make informed choices that way instead, and try to choose foods that have undergone as little processing as possible.
Just because a food has a nutrition or health claim on it, it doesn’t always make it a great choice!! For example, many products claimed as ‘low fat’ are high in sugar, and may still be very high in kilojoules.