Food labelling: tricks of the trade


'Natural’, ‘healthy’ and 'scientifically proven' – don’t believe a word you read!

Sugar and fat can be made to look positively healthy, and apple pulp can be rebadged as 'succulent strawberries' according to CHOICE magazine.

The June issue of CHOICE reveals the tricks used by food producers to make less healthy products seem downright good for you.

CHOICE highlights 12 examples of creative spin revealed in one short trip to the supermarket. Included in the CHOICE ‘dirty dozen' are:

  • 'natural' – there's little to stop a food producer making this claim. One 'natural' snack bar contained hydrogenated palm oil which is high in artificially produced trans fats. Not so natural in our book.
  • 'healthy' – current labelling laws don't allow health claims (except in relation to folic acid) but some products get around the law by inserting the word 'health' into the registered trade name, such as 'Healthwise'.
  • 'fat free' – products making a % fat-free claim aren't always low fat. One yoghurt claims it is 94% fat-free which is not so impressive when you realise that means it contains 6% fat - a lot for yoghurt.
  • faux fruit – fruit bars and packaged fruits aren't as healthy as the real thing. A processed fruit snack claiming 99% fruit ingredients contained half the dietary fibre and vitamin C you'd get from an apple.
  • turning on the 'light/lite' – The term 'light' usually means less fat and less kilojoules. But 'extra light olive oil' is just a paler shade of green. Same kilojoules as any other olive oil.
  • going to the 'source' – 'a source of dietary fibre' doesn't necessarily mean it's brimming with fibre. Some breakfast cereals that use the 'source of dietary fibre' claim are well below average in fibre content. Look for 'very high fibre' or 'excellent source of fibre'.
  • blind them with science – a sports drink which claims it's scientifically proven to enhance your performance based on flimsy evidence, or bottled water that makes the nonsensical claim to have altered the structure of H2O – bottoms up!
  • serving sizes for small eaters – Fat and sugar content look more reasonable when manufacturers use smallish serving sizes. CHOICE found that men helping themselves to cereals on average took 49% more than the recommended serving size.

Food labelling regulations are currently under review. CHOICE is calling on shoppers to send through misleading or deceptive food labels to support its call for mandatory frank and informative labels.

Food labels can be sent to: CHOICE, Reply Paid 63621, Marrickville, NSW 2204. Or scan labels and email to labels@choice.com.au.

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