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Knowing what’s on your food labels |12 May 2023

Knowing what’s on your food labels

You’re walking down the supermarket or shopping aisle and surrounded by an abundance of products on the shelf. For many of us it can be overwhelming deciding which of these is actually healthy.

Food manufacturers continue to find ways to deceive consumers into buying their products by the label that they use. It can either be through attractive pictures or use of certain words and worse still certain claims made about the benefits of their product.

The best way to overcome the complexity of trying to make sense of food labels is by buying foods without a label.

Unfortunately, our food system has changed so much that most available foods in our shops are prepackaged meaning that they come packed in a container of some sort. With this comes a label which is a requirement in most if not all countries for such foods.

But how do we make sense of what is actually healthy amid the countless ultra-processed foods often cunningly disguised as ‘healthy’.


What to look for on a food label?

Food labels can be very confusing if you don’t know what you’re looking for as there is a lot of information on there.

At the minimum, you should be able to clearly identify the following on the label: the name of the product, the brand, the net weight, the ingredients list, any allergens (known to cause allergy), the manufacturer’s details and the use by or expiration date.


Ignore the health claims

Food manufacturers lure customers by making many claims on the front of packs which are often misleading and at times untrue. Some people actually don't even bother looking anywhere else on the packet after seeing these claims because they assume that the product is healthy.

Some common claims that can really convince you that a product is healthy include the use of terms like ‘natural’, ‘organic’, ‘no added sugar’ or ‘gluten-free’.

Although there are certain products using these terms that are actually healthy it is worth digging deeper before putting that product in your basket. The best thing is to also check the ingredient list to know what ingredients are in there. Some of these seemingly ‘healthy’ products are also high in sugar, salt, colouring, flavouring and other additives.


The ingredient list

The best and easiest way to know if a product is healthy is looking at the ingredient list. In an ingredient list the ingredients are listed from highest to lowest amount. This means that just looking at the first few ingredients will give you a good indication of how healthy the product is as it will allow you to know the most dominant ingredient in the product.

If there are over ten ingredients in the ingredient list with most of them looking more like chemicals than actual food or if it contains refined grains, hydrogenated oils, sugar and salt then leave that product on the shelf. As much as possible choose products with whole ingredients.


Beware of other names for salt and sugar

Manufacturers have found ways to add sugar to their products disguised under different names other than ‘sugar’. Anything ending with ‘ose’ is a form of sugar such as dextrose, galactose, maltose, lactose, sucrose.

Other common names include saccharin, maltodextrin, fructose corn syrup, barley malt, molasses, cane juice crystals, corn sweetener, dextran, malt powder, ethyl maltol, fruit juice concentrate, invert sugar, muscovado sugar, raw sugar, coconut sugar, raspadura sugar, evaporated cane juice, carob syrup, golden syrup, high-fructose corn syrup, agave nectar, malt syrup, maple syrup, oat syrup, rice bran syrup and rice syrup.

Similar to sugar, salt comes in various other names. This includes for example baking soda, baking powder, celery salt, chicken salt, monosodium glutamate (MSG), meat or yeast extract, garlic salt, rock salt, sea salt, soy sauce, sodium alginate, sodium citrate, sodium phosphate, sodium bicarb, sodium sorbate, sodium nitrate, stock cubes or vegetable salt.

If any of these are at the top of the ingredient list or if there are several of these in the ingredient list, then it means that the product is high in sugar or salt and should not be in your shopping basket.


Nutrition information

Most prepackaged foods should have a nutrition information panel or nutrition facts that describes certain nutrients present in the food and the amount of each one.

The nutrients that should be listed include total fat, saturated fats, protein, carbohydrates, sugar and sodium. It should also include the total energy expressed as calories or kilojoules. Additional ones like trans fats, fibre as well as vitamins and minerals are not compulsory but can also be included.


Manufacturers have to display this information per 100 grammes or millilitres of the product. They also at times provide the amount per serving size which they determine for each product. Be mindful that serving sizes used may not always be representative.


Most times it is actually much smaller than the actual serving size that most people would eat. For example, the serving size could represent half of a can of soft drink, one single biscuit, half a chocolate bar or one half of a cookie. An entire container of a product if eaten therefore may actually represent two, three or four servings in reality.


How to choose the best products using nutrition facts?

Many countries have started introducing what is known as front-of-pack labelling to help consumers choose healthier products. The focus is on sugar, saturated fats and salt. These are usually further illustrated using different colours. Red for high; amber for medium and green for low. This is outlined further in the table below.

Although we do not have front-of-pack labels on all products on the market, using the table is a good starting point in helping you choose healthier products when doing your shopping.

Source: World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF)


Thank you for joining us this week on our Eat for Our Health page. Look us up on social media - Eat for Our Health Seychelles on Facebook.

Please get in touch by emailing and let us know how you’re doing with these ideas, or better still, let us know how we can help you.


Yours in health

The E4OH team


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