The Language of Labels

Do you find grocery shopping confusing? Do you spend hours trying to decide which is the best product or feel like you need a science degree to interpret what is written on food labels? Well you are not alone. Shopping for yourself or your family can be a daunting task due to the huge amount of information presented to our brains every time we set foot inside a supermarket. So while I cant give you an honorary degree in “Food Label reading”, I thought I would share some information to help make things a little easier for you.


The first thing you will notice is that any product you pick up is covered with a multitude of food claims or labelling statements. These may be anything from “97% Fat Free” to “Low Salt”, “Baked Not Fried”, “No artificial Ingredients”, the list goes on. The meaning or usage of some of these terms and statements are covered by the law, but others are completely open to interpretation; so here is a couple of key labels and what they actually mean to you:

Light OR Lite: This is my favourite as there is no legal meaning of the word “light” when it comes to food. Sometimes it means low fat but it can also mean light in colour or flavour, which in the case of olive oil for example is actually not a good thing.

Diet: Technically means that it has been artificially sweetened rather than having sugar added. This generally means more processed ingredients have been used.

No Added Sugar: The company has not used “sugar” itself as an ingredient, but may have used other sweeteners or “natural sugars” such as honey or concentrated fruit juice. This could still cause the product to have a high “sugar” content.

Reduced Fat or Salt: The product contains at least 25% less fat or salt than the original product but may still contain high levels of these nutrients.

95% Fat-Free: Still contains 5% Fat or 5 grams of fat for every 100g of product. This could add up if it is something you eat a lot of. Be aware that companies may use these statements on foods which are naturally low fat (think Fruit and vegetable-based products) to make them appear healthier.

Baked not Fried: Refers only to the cooking method, not the composition of the food. So even though it is baked, the product itself may still contain high levels of fat, sugar or salt.

Remember that at the end of the day, food manufacturers are trying to sell their product as much as possible so they will do whatever they can to make their product stand out. This means that it is up to you, the consumer, to determine where you want to spend your money and if a product is really being truthful. Manufacturers cannot tell blatant lies about products, but they can try to disguise certain things so for example, if a product is advertised as low sugar, check that it doesn’t have a higher fat or salt content. A “new, improved recipe” or a product using “all natural ingredients” may be sold in a smaller pack size at the same price to make up for increased processing costs.

Despite all this, I am not saying that we need to avoid processed foods as there is still lots of good products and companies out there, we just need to look a bit further into things to determine which is the best product for us. If you still find it confusing, our Accredited practicing dietitians can help translate the language of labels for you based on your individual needs and requirements; so don’t be afraid to call your local studio and book a session.

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