How to read labels. Part 1
In our information age, even a label can tell you almost everything about the product you are buying, you just need to be able to “read” its content.
We ourselves know which products are naturally low in fat: fruits and vegetables; and in which there is a lot of fiber: in wholemeal bread. The problem is that we are now consuming a lot of factory-prepared foods and drinks that you can’t tell right off the bat.
In choosing a product, we are helped by labels on its packaging, which tell us that it is distinguished by “low salt content” or “high content of polyunsaturated fatty acids”. However, you are probably already used to the fact that not everything is as simple in marking as it might seem at first glance. To begin with, there is a difference between absolute and relative nutritional information.
Absolute and relative nutritional information
• Absolute information is factual. For example, «1 serving of the product contains 5 g of fat.»
• Relative information is a comparison with the nutritional properties of other foods. For example, «contains 25% less salt.»
Possible inconsistencies in nutritional labeling
On the one hand, manufacturers cannot provide information about nutritional properties on food products that is completely untrue, as in this case they risk being brought in court by an order to withdraw the product from sale and eliminate its packaging, and then they will have to redo everything from the very beginning.
On the other hand, the law currently, with few exceptions, does not provide precise definitions of how many nutrients a product must contain in order for manufacturers to label it one way or another, such as “low fat”. At the same time, there are recommendations that are in the nature of wishes, and most manufacturers adhere to them. Large supermarkets and food manufacturers operating in the markets of many countries usually adhere to these recommendations, since, frankly, it does not make sense to neglect them.
Nutrition labeling recommendations
The Food Standards Agency provides food manufacturers with the following simple and clear guidance on nutrient labeling.
The Low Fat label means that 100 g or 100 ml of a food or drink contains no more than 3 g of fat. It can be found, for example, on pressed cottage cheese.
The Fat-Free label means that 100 g or 100 ml of a food or drink contains less than 0.15 g of fat. It can be found on some yogurts. The label «Low in saturated fat» means that 100 g or 100 ml of a food or drink contains less than 1.5 g of saturated fat. It can be found on vegetarian pates.
The «Saturated Fat Free» label means that 100 g or 100 ml of a food or drink contains less than 0.1 g of saturated fat.
* Values applicable to all foods and beverages, sparkling margarine and oils. They have different rules.
The label «Low Sugar» means that 100 g or 100 ml of a food or drink contains less than 5 g of sugars. It can be found, for example, on some orange lemonades.
The “Sugar Free” label means that neither sugar nor food products composed primarily of sugars have been added to the food product or to any of its ingredients. It can be found on freshly squeezed orange juices.
The «Sugar Free» label means that 100g or 100g of a food or drink contains less than 0.2g of sugars, which can be found on diet sodas.
Salt and sodium
The Low Sodium label means that 100 grams or 100 ml of a food or drink contains less than 40 milligrams (mg) of sodium. It can be found, for example, on the packaging of some varieties of muesli. The «Sodium Free» label means that neither sodium nor salt has been added to the food product or to any of its ingredients. It can be found on the packaging of cracked wheat porridge and on some rice cakes. The Sodium-Free label means that 100 g or 100 mg of a food or drink contains less than 5 mg of sodium.
The Source of Fiber label means that 100 g or 100 ml of food must either provide 3 g of fiber, or the amount of food expected to be consumed per day contains at least 3 g of fiber. This marking can be found on canned green peas.
The «High Fiber» label means that the food contains 25% more fiber than the same food without the high fiber label, or that 100 g or 100 ml of that food, or that the amount of product that is consumed per day on average contains more than 3 g of fiber.
Source: Adapted from How to Read Labels by Amanda Ursell
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