Food Labels: What’s In My Food?

Ever wondered if what you read on food labels is what you actually get? Dietitian Jo Travers explains what food nutrition labels actually mean.

Pictures: iStock.

Pictures: iStock.

Label says: No added sugar/unsweetened

‘No added sugar’ doesn’t mean that the food will have a low sugar content. It may contain ingredients (such as concentrated fruit juices) that have a naturally high sugar content, which is just as bad for your oral health. It may also contain artificial sweeteners.

HEALTH WATCH: These labels can be dangerous for diabetics who monitor their sugar intake.

KEEP IN MIND: ‘No added sugar’ doesn’t always mean low-kilojoule. Added starch can bump up the kilojoule count. Also, manufacturers often replace sugar with artificial sweeteners and sugar alcohols, such as lactitol, sorbitol and xylitol, which may act as laxatives.

Label says: Light/lite

This legally has to be 25% lower in at least one typical value (like fat or sugar) than standard products. Look at the nutritional label on the back of the item for the full picture. A ‘light’ product could contain 25% less fat, but still have the same number of kilojoules as a standard version of the product.

HEALTH WATCH: Sugar levels in these foods may be high, so check the ingredients list. A useful tool to use short-term, though, as a low-fat diet is linked to a lower risk of heart disease, diabetes, and some cancers.

KEEP IN MIND: Portion control of healthy foods is a better way to lose weight.

Label says: All natural/ 100% natural

These products don’t contain any artificial colours, flavours or preservatives and have no synthetic ingredients. The product won’t have been pasteurised, bleached or hydrogenated, but it may have been smoked, baked or distilled.

HEALTH WATCH: There’s no research proving that these products are better for you.

KEEP IN MIND: Just because something is ‘natural’ doesn’t mean it’s good for you. It can still contain lots of sugar and fat or be high in kilojoules. Check the ingredient list and the nutrition facts panel.

If you want to go gluten, sugar or dairy free, but aren’t sure where to start, sign up to our #7Days #FreeFrom gluten, sugar or dairy newsletter. For one week, we’ll send you all the recipes, tips and inspiration you need. Sign up for free here.

DISCLAIMER: Before starting any diet, you should speak to your doctor. You must not rely on the information on this website/newsletter as an alternative to medical advice from your doctor or other professional healthcare provider.

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