Posted by Laura: August 2012
Pick up any food item in the supermarket and you're likely to find some kind of nutrition or health claim on the pack. What's worrying is that in Australia general health claims, such as ‘with calcium for strong bones' or ‘with probiotics to improve digestion', don't have to be independently checked to be included on a product label. Nutrient content claims are claims about the vitamins and minerals in a product (and also things like protein, sodium and gluten) and include claims such as ‘a good source of iron' or ‘high in fibre'. Provided these claims are true (which generally means a product must contain at least 25% of the recommended daily intake of the nutrient to be a ‘good source') they can be spruiked on any packaged food, even though the food may also be high in fat and sugar and unhealthy overall.
To make matters worse, we're still in limbo and don't have a uniform front of pack labelling scheme to help us understand whether a product is good for us or not. For example, in the UK a number of packaged foods have traffic light labels to help consumers understand the nutritional quality at a glance. In Australia, we are left to cut through the marketing spin, to find a way to calculate what a serve is and puzzle over how a product contributes to our recommend daily intakes.
Over-consumption of unhealthy products is a key driver of the growing obesity rates in Australia. So, it's more important than ever that we know how to decipher whether products are healthy based on the label.
Here are some tips to help:
Keep in mind that the food industry is marketing to you; that Government hasn't got regulations around food product packaging wrapped-up yet; and you should be spin-wary when walking down the supermarket aisles.