Sneaky Food Labels

food labels

Food manufactures often use confusing and misleading description like “fat free” and “100% natural” to attract buyers. Here are a few examples,taken from Australian supermarkets, to look out for the next time you go shopping.

As if eating healthy isn’t already a challenge, it doesn’t help when food labels are confusing as hell. Australia has proposed a “health star rating” rating scheme to give us a hand.  Unfortunately, that has been put on hold since February due to pressure from the food industry and it’s unknown whether the scheme will be continued.

Marketers have a bag full of tricks to make their products seem more appealing to customers. It’s how they compete against other labels. The most effective and powerful tool is the packaging of the product as it is what consumers look at first when they are deciding what to purchase.

Here are the most common labelling tricks to be wary of the next time you go grocery shopping:


The colour of a package can influence our perception of how healthy the food is. A recent study found that the consumers’ perception of two identical chocolate bars were influenced by the colour of its packaging. Despite having identical nutritional value and calorie count, consumers perceived the one with the green packaging as to be a healthier option. That is because the color green is often associated with what is natural and healthy.

Ticks and Seals

Another tool employed by marketers to make their products look healthier is to include “ticks” and “seals” on the packaging. This leads consumers into thinking that the food has met some form of certification criteria.

A recent study has reported that twenty percent of parents with toddlers state that the presence of a quality seal is one of the reasons that motivated them into purchasing toddler formula over cow’s milk.

Less bad stuff

Some products include statements that claim it is better than something or has less of something but don’t specify what that “something” really is.

For example, Fountain’s Smart Tomato Sauce features a label that says it contains “25% less added salt”. However, it only contains “25% less added salt” when compared to the brand’s regular tomato sauce which has 186mg of salt per serving. This is clever labelling at its best.

Let us consider all the facts: the Heart Foundation defines low-salt foods as those with less than 120mg per 100g. Fountain’s Smart tomato sauce has 410mg per 100ml, which means it is not even close to the minimal amount.

Irrelevant Claims

Irrelevant claims are true. They are used to make the product appear unique but, in reality, it is no different to most foods in its category. Confused? Ok, let me explain. For example, Bega Stringers claim to be “100% natural” and that it contains “no artificial colours or flavours”, which may seem appealing for parents who are choosing snacks for their children but most standard cheeses also contain no artificial colours or flavours. In other words, you could get the same benefits from many other labels that sell the same food.

This isn’t to say that Bega Stringers are a bad product. It’s just that you might like to take in other factors such as the cost per serving into consideration in comparison to other cheese that are equally healthy.

Healthy brand names

Healthy sounding words are not only used as “claims”, but they are also used as brand names. There is a cookie on sale at the gym and the brand name is “Healthy Cookies”. This is all good except that the “Healthy Cookie” actually contains more fat and sugar compared to all the other cookies on sale.

People normally rate food as healthy or unhealthy based on the brand name as it is often used as a key descriptor of the nature of the product. This particularly applies to people who are watching their diet because they are vulnerable to selecting the unhealthier option based on product name or category.

If you are looking for a snack while you are watching your weight, you might go for a Go Natural Gluten Free Fruit & Nut Delight Bar, assuming that it will be a healthier choice compared to a candy bar. Although, upon closer examination, you would be surprised to see that it contains 931kj. This is only a few kilojoules less than a Mars bar, which contains 1020kj.

You know what they say, “you can’t judge a book by a cover” and now, you can’t judge food by its wrapper. We need to see passed the colours, decorations and cleverly worded claims and take a careful look at the ingredients and nutritional information.

For now, it seems that the only real healthy option is fresh food and basically anything that hasn’t been processed.

By: Marina

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