- Dr. Marco Verducci
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The label of a food is a very important indication as, thanks to a careful reading of the nutritional label , it is possible to obtain all the information concerning the food in question. The problem, however, is knowing how to read it.
With our guide we will learn to understand what are the indications included in the labels of the product packaging and how to exploit them to be a true conscious consumer . The label, let's not forget, which is a fundamental element especially for those with food allergies or intolerances (such as lactose intolerance - HERE the in-depth link - or celiac disease - HERE the link ), in order to be able to avoid allergens and "offending molecules".
At the supermarket, the simple choice of food and drinks represents the first step for an intelligent shopping and the first attention we can pay to our nutrition and therefore to our health .
The importance of understanding and knowing the nutritional values of what we buy is therefore of fundamental importance.
If it is true, however, that the label contains important information for the consumer, we have already said that sometimes it is not clear enough. For this reason, Regulation (EU) 1169/2011 on the provision of food information to consumers has taken care of simplifying all the previous rules on labeling. This regulation updates and simplifies the previous rules on food labeling. Furthermore, the Regulation (EC) 1924/2006 relating to nutrition and health claims provided on food products, was interested in claims , that is to say those health claims reported on food products.
This makes us understand how the appearance of labels is very important, and how these regulations have dealt precisely with consumer protection . But it's up to us all to become truly aware.
What is the label?
From the definition of Art. 1 Reg. 1169/2011, the label is " any commercial or trademark, sign, image or other graphic representation written, printed, stamped, branded, embossed or imprinted on the packaging or container of a food or accompanying such packaging or container ".
In simple terms, it is the description of our food product , its identity card.
What do the regulations say?
We have mentioned two important regulations, in terms of labeling, let's see them in detail.
Regulation (EU) 1169/2011 was approved in order to guarantee an optimal level of consumer protection, ensuring them the right to information. For this reason, the consumer must be adequately informed about the foods he buys and consumes. For this reason it is also advisable that the consumer himself is not misled , preventing misleading actions and omissions of information.
Regulation (EC) 1924/2006 establishes the rules for the use of nutrition and health claims (which we have already defined as claims) that can be proposed on food labels and / or with advertising. For this purpose, the regulation provides that the claim can be associated with the food only if:
- Truthful and based on scientific data
- It does not attribute to the food properties that prevent, cure and / or cure diseases
What information can we read on the label?
The label of a product is its identity card. That is everything related to the food, from its place of production to its nutritional table. Let's see in detail all the information reported.
List of ingredients : a list of all the substances used in the preparation of the food. Their arrangement is not accidental, but they are organized according to a decreasing quantitative order. This means that the first ingredient will be the most present, vice versa the last will be the one present in less quantity. This is important information as we are able to understand, in this way, which is the main ingredient and therefore if it meets our expectations on the product itself.
Furthermore, by law, all the allergens present must be highlighted in the list of ingredients, which will be written in bold type. In this way it will be possible to quickly identify their presence.
Nutritional declaration : indicates the presence of macronutrients (carbohydrates, lipids and proteins) and their percentage in the product. Furthermore, in the case of carbohydrates, the presence of simple sugars among them is indicated, and in the case of lipids, the presence of total fats and saturated fats (those that should be included in our diet in moderation). In addition, the presence of salt and calories will be reported.
Expiration date : is the date by which the product should be consumed. It is different, however, from the minimum storage term, that is the date by which the quality of the product remains unchanged but which does not cause damage to health if consumed at a later date.
Country of origin : important to understand in which geographical area the product or raw material originates.
But among the ingredients, what can we find?
In addition to the one already mentioned, we could also find other substances that are not normally known to us.
Let's start with the aromas , which if indicated as such will be artificial, otherwise they will be referred to as "natural aromas".
Additives are another element that we can often find. They are substances, obviously authorized by law, which are added to our product. Additives include: dyes, preservatives and emulsifiers.
Dyes are used to change the color of the food.
The preservatives , on the other hand, are used to improve its shelf life, slowing down its deterioration.
Emulsifiers are surfactants that are useful for mixing the ingredients together, ensuring the physical stability of the final product.
As we have anticipated, the allergens are highlighted in the list of ingredients, with a different character from the rest of the label. Even bulk products , by law, must bring them back.
Substances that can cause food intolerances are also indicated as allergens, therefore we will find: gluten, lactose, milk, crustaceans, molluscs, eggs, dried fruit, soy, celery and mustard .
For lactose intolerant ( HERE the link to our guide to lactose intolerance ) it is good to pay particular attention to some particular indications.
In fact, lactose will be present where it is reported: lactose, whey, anhydrous butter, milk powder and so on .
For lactose intolerant, pay attention to the wording of milk sugars , but let's not worry about the word " milk proteins ", lactose is, in fact, a sugar and not a protein.
As for lactose-free products, we will also be able to find those " naturally lactose-free ", foods that, thanks to a production process, will naturally suffer a loss in lactose content.
To clarify the matter, the Italian Association of Lactation-Intolerant Onlus (AILI) has created the brand called Lfree, to certify the absence of lactose in a food product and thus make it easier for the consumer to identify, a little 'as happens for the "crossed ear" in gluten free products. The Lfree brand is available in three variants: in blue "lactose free" indicates the absence of lactose less than 0.01% (generally for "delactosed" products), in green "lactose & milk free" the absence of lactose, milk and derivatives and finally the last “naturally lactose free” is dedicated to dairy products which due to their natural production process have a residual lactose content of less than 0.01%.
A delactosed product will report on the label the percentage of lactose present which may be:
Obviously, based on individual tolerance, you can opt for the one with the lowest lactose content or for the others. We refer HERE our article for the diet of lactose intolerant people .
For all foods such as: meat, potatoes, rice, pasta, eggs, turkey, chicken breast, tuna and many others, the risk of ingesting lactose is absent unless special and unusual processing carried out by the manufacturer. Always read carefully the instructions we have learned to recognize on the package.
Beware of misleading labels
Accompanied by slogans and impactful images, a label not only as we have already stressed must be clear to the consumer, but above all must be truthful.
An example? A juice rich in fruit , and which perhaps has a relatively low content, or a 100% wholemeal food that has also been produced with refined flours.
We just have to learn to defend ourselves, learning to read the labels.
- Regulation (EC) 1924/2006
- Regulation (EU) 1169/2011