How to read food packaging?

With everyone trying to eat healthy and cut sugars out of their diets, manufacturers are trying to find smart solutions to mislead their audience. Think about it: a juice carton with all kinds of fruits pictured on the front, muesli packages with lots of different grains on them. The design looks way more healthy than the product is, because as soon as you turn the packaging around you see the massive amounts of sugar that are hidden in your ‘healthy’ product. So the question “How to read food packaging?” Is a really valid one.

How to read food packaging?

We’ll answer this question by going into a few topics. We’ll start by explaining the danger of the packages, then we’ll explain the ingredient list, the nutritional value table and the allergy information.

The danger of the packages

As we mentioned in the introduction packaging can be very deceiving. It is very likely that when you see a yogurt product with fresh fruits portrayed on them, you’ll feel like you’re making a healthy decision. Often this is not true though. Don’t let the packaging deceive you, but look at concrete information such as the nutritional value table and the ingredients list.

Another thing to note are oneliners like ‘fresh’, ‘natural’, ‘craft’ on the front of the package. These are empty claims, there are no guidelines for these claims. Other claims like ‘light’, ‘source of fibers’ and ‘good for the immune system’ are way more trustworthy, as there are clear rules about these claims.

A good example of such a ‘misleading’ product is according to nutritionist De La Mar lemonade syrup. “On the front is a picture with splashing spring water and blueberries, combined with the message that the syrup consists of 75 percent cassis. On the label you can see that of that 75 percent, 90 percent consists of apple juice, rather than blueberries. The apple juice is also thickened, which results in a sugary consistence. So don’t think: apple is good, so this is good. Apple is sugar. And healthy sugars, in whatever form, simply do not exist. ”

The ingredient list

When you are reading the ingredient list, you always need to know what you’re looking for. Even here manufacturers will ‘hide’ the sugars and fats. There are over 50 words that manufacturers use to replace sugar. Search for words such as ‘wheat syrup’, ‘caramel’, ‘fructose’ or ‘invert sugar syrup’.

The same goes for trans fats. Scientific research shows that these are bad for your health. Some produce like milk and cheese have natural trans fats. These are fine when consumed in reasonable amounts. It’s the chemically produced ones that are bad. They can, among other diseases, cause a higher risk of diabetes type 2, strokes and heart diseases.

According to expert De Vries (Dutch Food Authorities), it’s not compulsory for producers to mention trans fats on the ingredient list. “The use of partially hardened oil or grease is always mentioned on the packaging of products, with the ingredients as ‘vegetable fat’, ‘partially hardened’ or ‘hydrogenated grease’, from which it can not be deduced how much trans fat there is in the product. ” It is not mandatory to mention trans fats on the label, because this would lead to the ‘unwanted’ effect that consumers find it even more difficult to make a healthy choice. ”

Nutritional Value Table

When you’re looking at the Nutritional Value Table you best look at the following information:

  • Calories
  • Saturated fat – as little as possible
  • Salt – advised amount is not more than 5 grams of salut a day
  • Sugar – as little as possible
  • Fibers – as much as possible

So for example when you’re comparing 2 types of muesli, you’ll pick the one with most fibers and least sugar.

The best way to look at these values is to compare two similar products. Always look at the amount per 100 grams. Usually the package will give you an impression of how much it is per ‘portion’, but this is unreliable as it is completely up to the manufacturer how big one portion is.

Note that in this table counts the sugars among carbs. This also includes sugars that are naturally there (e.g. sugars from fruit and milk).

In short…

Make sure you know what you’re looking for when you look at a package. At the end of the day it is different for everyone. Do you want to eat less sugar? Make sure you understand which names for sugar there are, so you can avoid them. Do you want to increase your daily salt intake? Look at the nutritional value table. We hope this answers your questions on “How to read food packaging?” but feel free to get back to us with any questions!

Looking for more healthy tips? Have a look at our other blog posts!