Health, Parenting

Making Sense Of Food Labels

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  • Category Health, Parenting

By Gabi Steenkamp, Registered Dietitian, Food Labelling and Nutrition Consultant. www.gabisteenkamp.co.za.

The information printed on all food labels in South Africa is regulated by the Department of Health regulations R146 (2010) for the labelling and advertising of foods, and there is no particular section that covers the labelling requirements for foods that are suitable for those with diabetes.

Since the diabetic way of eating is all about basic good nutrition, all healthy foods are suitable for those with diabetes.

However, they must be eaten in the correct serving size and combination to make up balanced meals. Such foods can be endorsed by Diabetes SA , but they have to  comply with the specifications set out by the endorsement programme of Diabetes SA.  Endorsed products and foods bear the logo below:

For those foods that have not applied for the endorsement by Diabetes SA, the consumer must read the label to assess whether a food or product is suitable for those with diabetes or not, as most foods that are suitable for those with diabetes do not carry the Diabetes SA logo above.

The most important information to look at on a food label is:

  • The name of the product
  • The total weight / volume
  • The serving size
  • The nutritional analysis information table
  • The ingredients list
  • The allergens declaration, if you suffer from a particular food allergy

The name of the product

The name given to a product is found on the main front panel of the packaging and should reflect what is inside the packaging. Should the name of the product not tell you what is inside the packaging, then an accurate description of the product is provided near the name.  Giving a product a name such as ‘honey smacks’ is not very informative.

The packaging could contain:

  • Honey sweets
  • Honey flavoured cereal
  • An icecream product flavoured with honey or containing honey bits
  • A chocolate with honey flavoured bits
  • Honey flavoured drink, etc.

But labelling this product as ‘Honey Smacks – honey flavoured popped wheat cereal’ tells you exactly what is in the packaging.

You, as the consumer, have a right to know exactly what is inside any food packaging. Should this not be the case, you should contact the toll free customer services line, or email, of that product to make them aware of the fact; and contact a food labelling consultant who can then contact the company and have the error rectified.

The label of the product below has a name that accurately tells what is in the packaging.

TOTAL WEIGHT (MASS) or VOLUME

The South African Bureau of Standards regulates the way in which the mass or volume of a product is stated on food packaging. All measures are metric and have a minimum lettering and number height. Knowing the total weight of what’s in the packaging, allows you to see immediately how many servings you will get out of one unit (be it a bag, jar, box, bottle, etc.). It also allows you to cross check if the serving size stated in the nutritional analysis table is do-able.

In the above example, one fish cake must weigh 75 g (300 g divided by 4 = 75 g), which is a reasonably sized fishcake and is the size given in the nutritional analysis table for a single serving.

THE SERVING SIZE

The food labelling regulations stipulate that serving sizes stated in the nutritional analysis table, or anywhere on the label, may NOT encourage obesity and nutrition experts, such as a dietitian, determine the serving size to ensure that the serving sizes stated on pack are nutritionally correct and practical.

For example, foods that make up the protein part of a main meal (such as fishcakes) should contain:

  1. Up to 1000 kJ per serving
  2. Less than 12 g fat per serving
  3. Less than 30% of total fat, as saturated fat per serving

In the example of the fishcakes, you can see that in the second column of numbers in the nutritional information table, one fishcake weighing 75 g contains:

  1. 530 kJ
  2. 5.9 g of fat
  3. of which 1 g is saturated fat.

The 1 g of saturated fat is less than 30% of the total fat (5.9%), so you can conclude that this is a healthy fishcake to have with your supper.

You can also deduct from this that in fact you could have 2 of these fishcakes with your supper – provided of course you add the required 2-3 vegetable servings to make a balanced meal!

But having all 4 fishcakes would encourage obesity and not be good for blood glucose control.

On the other hand, foods eaten as a snack (such as icecream) should contain:

  1. about 500 kJ per serving and
  2. less than 6 g fat per serving
  3. Less than 30% of total fat, as saturated fat per serving

In the example of the slimmer’s choice icecream given below, you can see that in the second column of numbers in the nutritional information table, one serving of 175 ml, contains:

  1. 492 kJ
  2. 2.3 g of fat
  3. of which 1.7 g is saturated fat.

The 1.7 g of saturated fat is 74% of the total fat (2.3%), which means this snack contains too much saturated fat for good health and for those with diabetes since saturated fat increases the risk of heart disease, and particularly so for those with diabetes. For this reason, even though this is a controlled energy snack, it should only be eaten occasionally as a snack.

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