Confusing food labels
If you're rushing around the supermarket in a hurry, it's easy to misread the labelling on things. Some of it looks OK, but what does it really mean?
Here are some words that you'll find on many labels. They sound nice, and give you a warm fuzzy feeling about the product, but in real terms they have no meaning:
- Farm fresh/Farmhouse
- Country fresh
'Traditional' items often contain a number of non-traditional ingredients, including E-numbers. 'Country-fresh' eggs, accompanied by a nice picture of hens outside in the sunshine, can turn out to be from caged battery-farmed hens who have never seen natural daylight. And the worst bit is that this labelling practice is not illegal.
Other confusing phrases
- 'Juice drink': Fruit juice is 100% pure fruit juice (although it may be made from concentrate), but a juice drink only has to contain 5% pure fruit juice to get its name. That's a tiny dribble in every bottle. The rest of it can be artificial sweeteners, sugar, colours, flavourings, and even thickeners.
- '20% more beef!': If that 200g pie only contained 10g of beef in the first place, you're only getting an extra 4g of meat. Big deal.
- 'Strawberry flavour yoghurt': If it's strawberry flavour then the taste probably comes from artificial additives.
- 'Barn eggs': These come from birds who are able to move around and often have access to perches, nest-boxes and litter, allowing them to forage and roost. Not to be confused with free-range, which offers birds a similar interior to barn eggs, but also gives hens continuous access to open-air runs where they can exercise among vegetation.
What labels can you trust?
To gain the following awards, the manufacturer must have passed the specific guidelines of particular monitoring bodies:
Freedom foods: This is the RSPCA's farm and animal welfare labelling scheme. They have a strict set of standards, giving consumers the opportunity to purchase meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products from monitored farms. However, some animal rights campaigners think the scheme could be much stricter.
Look out for: A circular logo that reads 'Freedom Food, RSPCA Monitored'.
More info: Freedom Food
Organic: See our organic food article for more details.
Look out for: A round logo that reads 'Soil Association - Organic Standard'.
More info: Soil Association
Fairtrade: Makes sure that small-scale producers in developing countries receive more of the money you spend. Found on chocolate, coffee, tea, and other items.
Look out for: A logo made from two interlinking letter 'F's.
More info: Fairtrade Foundation
Vegetarian: For foods that do not contain any hidden ingredients, such as additives derived from animal sources (slaughterhouse products etc).
Look out for: a V-shaped logo with the words 'Vegetarian Society Approved', or the supermarket's own version.
More info: The Vegetarian Society
Understanding nutritional info
The numbers in the nutrition information panel can be confusing, and most manufacturers just give you the numbers, plain and simple. This doesn't really explain whether the product is healthy for you or not.
Meal or snack?
If you're going to be eating the whole contents of the box or packet, look at the grams 'per portion' or 'per serving'. If it's a food that you're only going to eat a small amount of, look at the figure 'per 100g'.
Companies are not obliged to give detailed nutrition information about their food products, unless they make a claim about their food such as 'low fat' or 'high fibre'. Just because something is labelled as '90% fat-free' (in other words containing 10% fat), it doesn't make it a low-fat food (it must contain less than 3% fat to be officially classed as 'low fat').
Here's a rough guide to nutrient levels in foods, and what the figures mean:
High: 10g of sugar per 100g of product.
Low: 2g per 100g.
High: 20g of total fats per 100g of product.
Low: 3g per 100g.
High: 5g of saturates per 100g of product.
Low: 1g per 100g.
Salt (as sodium)
High: 0.5g of sodium per 100g of product.
Low: 0.1g per 100g.
Low: 0.5g per 100g of product.
High: 3g per 100g.
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