Nowadays it is common to find people who read the labels of food products to know what they are putting on the table. This concern makes sense when we think that there are foods that are considered “healthy”, but that are not always the best options for consumption.
In addition to reading the label, it is necessary to understand what information regarding the amounts of calories, total fat and other nutrients that directly impact health mean. To give you an idea, a product described as 0% fat does not mean that it does not actually contain this ingredient, but that it respects a minimum amount that exempts you from the obligation to quote it.
And it doesn’t just happen with fat. Just because it says “whole grain” on the label or packaging doesn’t necessarily mean it’s 100% whole grain. “The person think that is buying wholemeal food, but sometimes he has more regular flour than wholemeal”, says Larissa Rodrigues Neto angelochusnutritionist and professor at the Department of Health Sciences at FMRP-USP (School of Medicine of Ribeirão Preto, University of São Paulo).
The nutritionist explains that new legislation came into force this year and defined new limits for considering a whole-grain product, and this should facilitate consumers’ understanding of products that are really whole-grain. In this case, it needs to have at least 30% wholegrain ingredients, and the total amount of these wholegrain ingredients is greater than the amount of refined ones.
“And to be a fiber source food, it needs to have at least 3 g of fiber per serving. To be declared high in fiber, the food must contain at least 6 g of fiber per 100 g or 100 ml, and 5 g of fiber per serving. If the food says it is a source of fiber but has only 1 g of fiber, it is not a source of this nutrient”, comments Olívia Nadja Prazeres da Silva, nutritionist at UFMA (Federal University of Maranhão).
According to the expert, when the list of ingredients is very extensive, it is a sign that the product is unhealthy. “The industry wants to sell, so in packaging it can use gimmicks and flashy words to win over the consumer”, emphasizes Silva.
Here are the main nutrients that impact health the most and what their respective amounts or exemptions really mean:
0% sugar: means that it must contain a maximum of 0.5 grams of sugars per 100 g or per serving, which is the amount of food (such as the number of cookies or slice of bread) used as a reference for nutritional labeling purposes.
low sugar: maximum of 5 g of sugars per 100 g or 100 ml in prepared dishes as appropriate. This means a prepared, cooked or pre-cooked food, which does not need to add any other ingredients for consumption.
No added sugars: it cannot contain added sugars or ingredients that contain added sugars; ingredients that naturally contain sugars and are added to foods as a substitute for sugars to provide a sweet taste. In this description, the manufacturer must also not use any means during processing, such as the use of enzymes, that could increase the sugar content of the final product.
0% total fat: to say that it does not contain fat, the food must have a maximum of 0.5 g of total fat per 100 g or 100 ml in prepared dishes.
Low fat: in this case, the maximum allowed is 3 g of total fat per 100 g or 100 ml in prepared dishes.
0% saturated fat: to say that it does not contain, the food can contain a maximum of 0.1 g of saturated fat, with the exception of skimmed milks, skimmed fermented milks and skimmed cheeses, for which a maximum value of 0.2 g applies.
Low in saturated fat: in this case, the maximum allowed is 1.5 g of the sum of saturated and trans fats per 100 g or 100 ml in prepared dishes.
0% trans fat: the maximum is 0.1 g of trans fats per 100 g or 100 ml in prepared dishes.
0% calorie: for the food to say that it contains no calories, there must be a maximum of 4 calories per serving of the food or per individual package.
Low calorie or low energy value: maximum 40 kcal per serving of food.
No calories or no energy value: maximum of 4 kcal per 100 g or 100 ml in prepared dishes.
No cholesterol: maximum of 5 mg of cholesterol per 100 g or 100 ml in prepared dishes.
low cholesterol: maximum of 20 mg of cholesterol per serving of food.
0% sodium: maximum 5 mg of sodium per 100 g or 100 ml in prepared dishes.
low sodium: maximum of 80 mg of sodium per serving of food.
very low sodium: maximum of 40 mg of sodium per serving of food.
does not contain salt: to say that the food does not contain salt, it really cannot have salt (sodium chloride) added or other sodium salts added.
proteins: to say that it has protein, the food needs to have at least 6 g of protein per 100 g or 100 ml in prepared dishes per serving. To declare a high content, the minimum rises to 12 g of protein per 100 g or 100 ml in prepared dishes per serving.
Nutritionist from UFMA Olívia Silva draws attention to another important detail: the amount of ingredients is based on portion. “When we see the amount of fat, calories or protein, just above the description comes, for example, a portion of 50 grams, and the total package is 200 grams. That table/label refers to that portion, not the whole product” , explains the expert. “It may be that the ingredient is little in the portion, but what about the whole product?”, she asks.
It is important to read the labels not only to know about the nutrients, such as the amount of calories present in the food, but also to have knowledge about the ingredients used in the manufacture of the product.
“We have the habit of just looking at the nutritional table, but by reading the list of ingredients on product packaging you can understand what is in the product. Know that the ingredient list is always from what has more to what has less, that is, if you are looking for a whole-grain product, look for that term as the first ingredient”, says Angéloco.
Labeling will change for the better
In October 2020, Anvisa (National Health Surveillance Agency) approved a new nutritional labeling standard. The main innovation is the inclusion of a seal in the shape of a magnifying glass, which must be visible on the front of the packages, as a warning for the exaggerated presence of fat, salt or sugar.
“The idea is precisely to make people understand what they are really taking home, because today everything is very confusing. Not that this change will be ideal, but it will help a little more”, says Angéloco, nutritionist and professor at FMRP-USP.
For the specialist, the new labeling will also make the companies themselves review the amount of ingredients that are harmful to health, after all, no one will want to print on the front of the package that the product is rich in sugar, for example. “Or there’s also the bad side, she wants to explore more the use of sweeteners not to say it’s sugar”, points out Angéloco.
Dinorá Zuffo de Miranda Boer, a nutritionist at Rede AmorSaúde in Pirassununga and a master’s student in food engineering at USP, also points out that according to the new legislation, the declared portion size must correspond to the total amount of the product contained in the package.
The new labeling has a period of 24 months to go into effect, so probably later this year we will start to see the new packaging in supermarkets.