Change Your Assumptions

The food we choose is governed as much by our assumptions (whether correct or incorrect) as by our appetites and nutritional knowledge. When you go grocery shopping, you’re likely to make decisions based on your assumptions about what you’re buying: you might reach for the cereal with dried fruit on the assumption that the fruit makes it healthier, or for the low-fat strawberry yoghurt on the assumption that it’s a sensible snack choice.

What assumptions do you regularly make about certain foods? For example, do you associate particular labels—such as ‘heart smart’ or ‘low fat’—with healthy foods?

What foods do you regularly buy and eat because you assume they’re a healthy choice? Do you think this is actually the case?

Discovering whether your assumptions are correct is easy—and the trick lies in knowing how to read a nutrition label. Here’s a handy guide to deciphering just what your food packaging is really telling you:

A Simple Guide to Reading Labels
What they sayWhat this meansWhat it could be hiding
Light / LiteIn terms of fat – nothing! It can be used with reference to the product’s texture, colour or taste.Fat, fat and more fat! As well as sugar, sugar and more sugar! (And perhaps salt, salt and more salt as well!)
No Cholesterol / Cholesterol Free / Low CholesterolPretty much nothing if the product is made from plants (eg margarine) as plants contain almost no cholesterol.Product still may be high in fat, which can lead to weight gain and increase levels of LDL cholesterol. Product may also still be high in sugar and salt.
Baked Not FriedThe product has been baked rather than fried.The product may still contain a high percentage of fat, sugar and salt.
High EnergyThis product is high in calories!Energy sounds great – everyone wants energy! Except the body turns unused energy into fat. Avoid high in energy if you are trying to lose weight!
Pure / NaturalNothing!Anything (and everything!)
FreshThe product hasn’t been frozen or canned.The product may have been refrigerated for several months.
Reduced FatThis product must contain at least 25% less fat than the regular version.This product may still be high in sugar and salt and potentially still quite high in fat if the regular version of the product is very high in fat to begin with.
X% Fat FreeThis clever wording shifts your focus to the fat that isn’t in the product and away from the fat that is still in there. For example, 80% fat free is still 20% fat overall.Potentially high levels of fat depending on the serving size – eg if the serving size is 300g and the product is 96% fat free then each serve still contains 12g of fat. The product can also be high in sugar and salt.
Low FatThe product must contain less than 3% fat is it is a solid food (1.5% if it is a liquid food).The product may be high in sugar and salt and still relatively high in fat as well – eg if the serving size is 300g then each serve may still contain nearly 9g of fat in total.
Fat FreeThe product must contain less than 0.15% fat.The product may still be high in sugar and salt.
Reduced SugarProduct must contain 25% less sugar than the regular version.The product may still be high in fat and salt and potentially still quite high in sugar if the regular version of the product was very high in sugar to begin with.
Low SugarProduct must not contain more than 5g total sugars per 100g.The product may still be high in fat and salt and potentially still quite high in sugar – eg if the serving size is 300 g you would still be consuming approximately 15g of sugar when you eat it.
Reduced Salt / Reduced SodiumProduct must contain 25% per cent less salt than the regular version.The product may still be high in fat and sugar and potentially still quite high in salt if the regular version of the product was very high in salt to begin with.
Low Salt / Low SodiumProduct must contain 120mg or less of sodium per 100g.The product may still be high in fat and sugar and potentially still quite high in salt – eg if the serving size is 300g you could still be consuming approximately 360mg of salt when you eat it.