Food labels on nutrition – confused?

Are you fed up with misleading food claims and back of pack nutrition information?  According to market research by Neilson, 60% of consumers worldwide are confused by food labels.  With the weekly food shop becoming a dreaded task. more work is needed to help people understand the pros and cons of the nutritional information.

Misleading food labels


Food labelled as organic, is perceived to be healthier according to research.  In a comparison test, participants thought organic labelled food tasted lower in calories and fat, and perceived the foods to be higher in fibre.  The non-organic labelled food was in fact, almost identical in terms of calories, fat and fibre.

The result of this is what’s called the ‘health halo’ affect and marketers use this to make foods seem better for you.  So what other tactics make you think a food tastes healthier?

Green Vs Red

In the highway code, the colour green means GO and the colour red means STOP.  But researchers have found these colours have a similar meaning in the food world.

People were shown images of chocolate bars labelled red and green, containing  information about the  nutritional value of the product, and asked to choose the least calories. The subjects felt that the green label indicated a more healthful product, rather than red, although the number of calories contained in them was the same.


Food Labels – Green Vs Red

This has huge implications on nutritional labelling as junk foods can hide behind green labels.  In the US, M&Ms and Snickers have green front of pack calorie flags, a dirty tactic which consumers are more vulnerable to at the checkouts.

What food labels mean?

We looked at different food labels with terms such as low fat, high fibre, low salt and what they mean in terms of your nutrition.


[table]Food Labelling term, What does it mean?
Reduced Fat, Less than half gram of fat to its original
Light, 50% less fat/sodium than the original product
Zero Trans Fats, Less than half a gram of trans fat per serving
Cholesterol Free, Less than 2mg of cholesterol per serving
Lean, Less than 10g of fat; 4.5 g of saturated fat; & 95 mg of cholesterol per 100 g
Low Fat, 3g or less of fat per serving
Good Source of, Minimum of 10% of RDAs
High Source of, Minimum of 20% of RDAs
Free Range, Animals allowed access to outside
Organic, 95% organic ingredients
Natural, No added colour; artificial flavours; or synthetic substances
Low Sodium, 140 or fewer mg of sodium per serving
Multigrain, More than one type of grain in the product
Whole wheat, Food with whole wheat flour[/table]

Hopefully we’ve managed to shed some light on food labels and what they really mean when it comes to your nutrition.

Children’s menu nutrition review

A meal out with the family is a great way to get a night off from cooking and spend some quality time together.  But are you happy with the children’s menu on offer?  Are restaurants doing enough to consider kid’s nutrition, particularly in terms of fat, sugar and salt?  We put a selection of children’s menu under the nutrition microscope.

US Restaurants

Popular restaurant chains have been under pressure to revamp their children’s menu and design kids recipes that encourage healthy eating.  In the US, they have made little progress to improve the nutritional profile of children’s meals.  Since meals were last analysed in 2008, a recent report found that 97% of nearly 3,500 meals failed to meet the standards set by the Centre for Science in the Public Interest for 4 to 8 year olds.

To meet the CSPI nutrition criteria, kid’s meals must not exceed:

  • 430 calories
  • 35% of calories from saturated fat plus trans fats
  • 35% added sugars

In addition, a full children’s meal must contain less than 770mg of salt.

UK Restaurants

So in the UK, have restaurants managed to remove the chicken nuggets and chips and replace it with chicken breast and potatoes?  Or is the unlimited ice cream and fizzy drinks still high on the menu, with vegetables and milk not getting a mention?  Let’s find out.

We reviewed the childrens’ menu from three popular restaurant chains, to see which offered the most in terms of kid’s nutrition.

Harvester Children’s Menu

The Harvester’s kids menu offered a good variety of options for fussy eaters and included calories beside each meal.  Vegetables included peas, corn and beans with an unlimited salad bar.  All meals would have come in with CSPI nutrition criteria with regards to calories however salt content was still too high.

Toby Carvery Children’s Menu

Although the menu contained no nutritional information, they offered a large selection of roast meats and vegetables.   The challenge with this restaurant is getting the kids to opt for the vegetables as they were not served on their plate.

Drinks included diluted fruit juice and water, a big tick in the box, with no fizzy drinks.

Wetherspoon Children’s Menu

This restaurant performed the worst out of the three, offering high calorie meals with few vegetables and a host of calorific desserts.  The highest calorie meal was chicken nuggets with chips and beans at 706 kcals and 3,200mg of salt.  The children’s banana spilt was 663 calories. Not only was the menu high in saturated fat and salt but the portion sizes were far too large.

How easy is it for you to get your kids to eat a balanced meal when your out for dinner?  Do you have any favourite restaurants, and why?  Tweet us @eatbalanced or leave a comment.