As more diet trends hit society, it’s getting more and more overwhelming to shop the aisles of the grocery store. Does “gluten-free” mean it’s inherently healthier for you? Just because something is labelled as “light” makes it superior? And how in the heck can a food be zero calories??
The food industry is massive and they’re able to use their packaging, advertisements, and even shelf placement to their advantage to reel you in as a consumer. They’re also greatly benefitting from the fact that dieting is trendy, and will label their items accordingly (cough, cough, low carb anyone??).
As somewhat of a follow-up from my previous post about unhealthy health foods, I wanted to talk about the nutrition claims companies put on their packaging. I mentioned how consumers need to be critical and aware when shopping, and these claims are one easy way we can be tricked.
You’ve seen them before, packages that say “low fat”, “reduced sodium”, or “fat free”. But, did you know there are certain standards the food has to meet in order to print this? Here are a few of the claims I think are of the most interest to consumers along with the standard they must meet in order to advertise it:
- Fat-free / no fat / zero fat – food must contain less than 0.5 g of fat per serving size*
- Low in fat / low source of fat – food must be 3 g of fat or less per 100 g / 3 g of fat or less per stated serving size*
- No added fat – food contains no added fats, butter, oil, or other ingredients which contain fats, oils, or butter
- Sodium free / no sodium / salt-free – less than 5 mg of salt per serving size
- Low sodium / little sodium – less than 140 mg of salt per serving size
- Reduced sodium / lower in salt / less salt – the food has been processed, formulated, or modified to contain 25% less salt than the serving size of a similar food
- Source of fibre / contains fibre – the food has 2 g or more of fibre per serving size
- High source of fibre / high in fibre – the food has 4 g or more of fibre per serving size
- Very high source of fibre – the food has 6 g or more of fibre per serving size
- Calorie free / no calorie / zero calorie – the food contains no more than 5 calories per serving size
- Low calorie / low in calories – the food contains no more than 40 calories per serving size
- No added sugar – the food cannot have sugars added to it, but natural sugars can be present (e.g., fruit items will still contain the natural sugars from the fruit)
Finally, calling something “light” or “lighter” means it has to meet the same standards as calling it “reduced” as noted above.
*It’s important to note that in order to make a food “low fat” or “fat free”, a company may have swapped out a healthy fat source and replaced it with something less healthy, like a sugar, to make sure it tastes great and is appealing to you. Don’t just read the label on the front of the package, but be sure to check the nutrition facts table, too!
A Word on Serving Size
As noted above in all the claims, it’s based on the serving size – which may or may not be what you choose to eat! If the nutrition facts of a cookie is based a serving size of two cookies, and you eat four – be sure to double all the nutrient information. Some serving sizes will be written in weights (grams, mL, ounces, etc.), or it may be per item or package (half a package, half a bar, etc.). You need to match what you eat to the serving size listed to figure out what you’ve actually eaten in terms of nutrients and calories!
In addition to these nutrient claims, food labels can also include health claims such as, “A healthy diet rich in vegetables and fruit may help reduce the risk of some types of cancer”. There are only five scientifically verified claims for disease risk reduction which have been approved by Health Canada (2012, pg. 7):
- A healthy diet low in sodium and high in potassium can reduce the risk of high blood pressure
- A healthy diet with adequate calcium and vitamin D may reduce the risk of osteoporosis
- A healthy diet low in saturated and trans fat reduces the risk of heart disease
- A healthy diet rich in vegetables and fruits may reduce the risk of some types of cancer
- Non-fermentable carbohydrates in gums and hard candies can reduce dental caries
Read carefully and eat healthfully!! XO