Blog Series: Food and drink labelling made easy

Posted 20 April 2016

Helen Bond, State Registered Dietitian

Nutritional labelling: Tackling myths and misconceptions

In the first of our food labelling series, we looked at the essentials of reading nutritional labels. In this blog we’re going to be looking at the top misconceptions around food and drink labels, helping you to shop smarter next time you are in the supermarket.

#1: The ingredient list doesn’t include everything in the product

Contrary to what you may have heard, nothing is hidden. For example, if a product contains sugars – natural or added – it will be listed on the label. If it is not listed in the ingredients list, it’s not in the product!

#2: Low sugar/low fat means fewer calories

Another thing to consider when it comes to sugars and labelling is the nutritional information on the front and back-of-pack, and the ingredients list too. Don’t assume that low sugar or low fat products will automatically be lower in calories. This is not always the case.

#3: The value for sugars on nutrition labels is all added sugar

When you see the term ‘sugars’ on a nutrition label, it refers to all sugars in the product, naturally occurring and added sugars.

It is not possible at the moment for a manufacturer to accurately work out the amount of added sugars in a food or drink product. Remember, look at the Ingredients list; sugar, honey, syrups, pure fruit juices and concentrates are all common added sugars. The higher up the ingredients list they appear, the more of them the product contains.

#4: Checking whether one particular ingredient is in a product is the easy way to read a label

Many of us look at the amount of a particular ingredient in a product – be that sugar, salt or fat. But, it’s worth remembering that, for example, some foods that contain added sugars come with extra goodness such as vitamins, minerals and fibre. For example, fruit juices are high in sugars, but they bring with them vitamin C, folate and potassium. Simply keep an eye on your portion size and stick to the recommended serving of just one small (150ml) glass of unsweetened fruit juice a day, which counts towards your 5-A-Day.

#5: You shouldn’t eat anything with a red traffic light

A healthy diet is all about balance, and while traffic light colours on front-of-pack nutrients are a good ‘at a glance’ indicator, I recommend shifting your focus away from a red (stop) and green (go) interpretation and towards an emphasis on getting the right balance of foods in your overall diet. Even foods that have lots of ‘reds’ should not be considered problematic if they are eaten occasionally in moderation and as part of a balanced diet.

 #6: Portion size are the same for adults and children

Many front and back-of-pack labels will state the number of calories in one portion of the food. Be mindful that, in general, the portion sizes on-pack are suitable for adults, so younger children and teenagers may need smaller amounts.

I hope that I have debunked some common myths and misconceptions when reading labels which will help next time you go shopping. Of course, not all food and drinks have labels– fresh fruit and vegetables, lean meat and fish from the counter and bread from the bakery. In these cases, the Eatwell Guide can help, showing the different types of food we should eat and in what proportions in order to have a healthy, balanced diet.

For more information, please check out my short videos which look at food labelling in more detail or read my ‘how to read labels’ blog.