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Is Your Food Lying to you?

Do food labels confuse the sh*t out of you? We decode cryptic claims to sort fat from fiction.  

Organic

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Buying foods produced without chemicals such as pesticides and fertilisers, where possible, is good (because #cleaneating). But just because food is organic doesn’t automatically make it nutritious. “Organic foods still have the same amount of fat or calories as non-organic versions, it’s just that they might have been grown in a more sustainable manner,” explains Kate Gudorf, an accredited practicing Dietician and Spokesperson for the Dieticians Association of Australia.

Diet Or Sugar-Free

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Sugar-free’ can often be misleading. Sugar can be replaced with syrups and other sweet ingredients. So, technically it is ‘sugar-free’, but really it’s just filled with sugar by another name. Ingredients to look out for are honey, maple syrup, corn syrup, barley malt, fructose, glucose, dextrose, and fruit juice concentrate. And manufacturers often split them up so the ingredients are placed lower down on the list, so instead of 15g sugar, they’ll have 5g corn syrup, 5g fructose, and 5g barley.

Unrelated Claims

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Some facts might be true, but often, they’re irrelevant. For example, that cholestrol-free oil you’ve been buying? Yes, it is cholestrol-free, but guess what? So are all olive oils. Likewise, “gluten-free claims on products such as rice crackers, which are gluten-free anyway,” says Sarah Court, Commissioner for the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission. And what’s frustrating is that these brands often charge a premium for the seemingly premium product.

Percent Less Fat

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Discovering that your faves now have 25 percent less fat could be the greatest thing you’ve heard all year. Sadly, that doesn’t make them healthy. It all lies in what Gudorf calls the ‘reference food’—what they’re being compared with. A lot of these reference foods are really high in fat, meaning the ‘25 percent less fat’ option isn’t necessarily that much healthier, explains Gudorf. And watch out for food claiming to be fat-free. Often it’s just got added sugar to create flavour.

Free Range

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There is no one set free-range standard in India. “To meet the demand for free-range eggs, many farmers removed the cages but left the stocking density the same, meaning the chickens could barely move around,” says Court. (Yes, this still counts as free range.) In India, Happy Hens Farm, located at a two-hour drive from Bengaluru, became the first Indian producer to label its eggs as ‘free-range’, as an indication of their hens’ high welfare and space allowances.

Ticks And Seal

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Most of the badges that you see on food packaging, such as the ‘FSSAI’ (Food Safety and Standards Authority of India) logo, require a product to meet some particular health standards in order to use that sign. Some producers, however, create their own ticks and seals to trick you into thinking it’s legit or to make you associate it with one of those proper ticks or seals. If it looks a bit iffy or you haven’t seen it on your products before, don’t trust it—but Google it.

The Truths

You’re probably wondering whether you can trust anything you see on food labels. Well, you can, if you know what to look for. "Buy LOW-FAT,  LOW-SUGAR,  REDUCED  SALT AND HIGH-FIBRE". “These food claims are usually good because they’re regulated,” explains Gudorf. “If a product says it’s low-fat, it’s indeed low fat.” It’s still worth taking a look at the sugar content, though, in case it’s been jacked up. Read The nutritional information panel. Okay, so nobody’s really got time to read the label on every box or jar every single time, but do it once and you can just keep buying the same products. 

Energy: Look at the number of calories per serving, and opt for the product with the lower amount. 

Saturated fat: As a rule, the closer to zero, the better.

Sugar: Keep sugar below 10g per 100g. For flavoured yoghurt or cereal, keep it under 15-20g. 

Salt: Below 400mg per 100g is a good amount. Watch out for preserved meats and canned foods as the salt content of these can be particularly high.