Are Food Labels Deceptive?

What do I mean by ‘Are Food Labels Deceptive’? Well, I would like to think that we are past the days where companies lie about ingredients in their foods, alas the horse meat scandal of 2013. But that doesn’t mean the foods we are consuming are always nutritionally conscious in mind. More so, healthy foods are sometimes labelled in a way that may detract certain customers. In this latest post I go over things to consider the next time you do your next food shop.

Rules and Regulations on Food Labelling…

So in the UK, governing bodies regulate what food companies can and cannot put on their packaging. This is done so in order to protect the consumer, so that what they are eating is what they expect to eat. Sounds all good right?

Of course, food companies market certain products to sound super healthy, when they’re probably not as healthy as you would think. Labels like ‘Farm Fresh’ are meaningless, and are simply a ploy to evoke feelings of fresh and healthy food. But there are some terms, which follow regulations, that companies use to present a product that the general public would see as something healthy, when it is not all that.

For example, in the UK a food company cannot label a product ‘Reduced Salt’ if it has more than 0.5g of sodium per 100g of product. Without any prior knowledge of nutrition, this sounds all well and good. However, with current nutritional recommended guidelines stating no more than 2g sodium per day of total consumption, this doesn’t seem all that great. It can be very easy to meet that quota, especially if eating multiple portions of the same ‘Reduced Salt’ products.

Food Trade-Offs…

Leading on from this, there are sometimes cases where a food product follows the guidelines completely, and exceeds the bare minimum it needs to reach them. Many times you could consider this product to be super healthy. Other times it is just a ploy to appear healthier than average.

For a product to be labeled ‘Low Fat’ it must contain less than 3g fat per 100g of product. So something like a low fat breakfast cereal is often times accurate, in that cereals rarely have high amounts of fat in them. But to make foods more palatable, companies can still have high amounts of sugar in those low fat foods. There is no lie here, but labelling the product ‘Low Fat’ gives the impression that you are eating a healthy food, when sugar is very unhealthy, even in moderate quantities.

In my opinion, sugars are far worse for you than fats, and I would more often than not take the ‘Full Fat’ versions with less sugar. Though sometimes the differences can be minuet, if you are sensitive to sugars in some form or another, this hidden sugar could be particularly bad for your health. The next time you go food shopping, compare regular and low fat versions of the same product, and see whether you are happy with the trade off.

Scary Healthy Foods…

Speaking of fats, there are some healthy foods that are labelled in ways that may be putting people off. Labelling guidelines like the traffic light system (i.e. red = high amounts of a macronutrient, orange = moderate amounts, and green = low amounts) have been implemented for several years now, to support consumers in making healthier decisions. But if you are not that nutritionally aware, some foods that are genuinely good for you can be misconstrued as unhealthy.

Fats should not be consumed in excess, especially for people who are trying to lose weight, as fats are very calorie-dense. However, naturally occurring plant-based fats are good for you. Nobody should be avoiding fats entirely, in part because certain micronutrients require fats to be absorbed properly in the body (incl. Vitamins A, D, E, and K). These micronutrients are vital for optimum functioning, and so if you cut out all fats from your diet, you risk being deficient in these areas. But what does this have to do with food labels?

Whole foods like nuts and seeds often times have high levels of fats. But they also contain those vital vitamins, which are responsible for regular functioning. However if a customer looks at the packaging of these products, and sees a bright red circle indicating high fat, I would not be able to blame them for thinking the food is not good for you.

Though I have no suggestion on what kind of labelling should replace this, I think something should be made clearer around the nutritional insights of food products. Especially for packaged whole foods, which we should more frequently adopt into our diets.

What do you think? Do you feel that food labels are deceptive? Do you have any suggestions on how supermarkets and food companies should label their products? Let me know in the comments below!

3 Thoughts

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