Get supermarket savvy

by Khushboo on January 4, 2011

Most people read magazines on their bed…on a plane…at the beauty salon.  I read them at the gym whilst on the cross trainer.  If you ask me, magazines are an excellent alternative to clock-watching…plus it gives me something to look forward to when my alarm goes off. Between magazines, the occasional people-watching, and my iPod all competing for my attention, the 45 minutes or so sure fly by.  It also means I absorb the magazine’s content as opposed to merely flick through it. 

This morning I enjoyed the company of  Zest.  An article on product labels was a real eye-opener.  I’ll save my rant on how companies distort the nutritional stats of their products for another day.  In the meanwhile, here’s the lowdown on label lingo:


You think it means: a healthier, figure-friendly version of a product

The reality: In order to qualify to use the term ‘light’, the rules only require food makers to reduce one nutritional component by 30%.  Therefore they can lower the calories, fat, or salt and then do whatever they what they want with the remaining ingredients.  To keep foods tasty, companies often compensate for the lowered fat by ramping up the sugar.  In some cases, there can be very little difference between light and regular in terms of calories and fat.  For example McVitie’s Light HobNobs may contain 6g less fat per 100g than regular HobNobs, but they’re actually higher in sugar and only contain 32 fewer calories.  Not so light after all :shock:.

 Real fruit

You think it means: Real fruit is the main ingredient of your fruit drink/food

Reality: The fruit content could be well under 10% and be heavily processed.  Your juice drink, for example, could contain as little as 5% real fruit and still legally state that it contains ‘real’ juice.  The rest could be made up of water, sugar, flavors, and colors.  And as for 100% fruit juice, don’t think that it is squeezed straight into the carton: it may have been concentrated, frozen, and then reconstituted before packing.  Instead look for terms like ‘direct juice’ or ‘not from concentrate’ as regulations cover those phrases.


You think it means: Farmers’ market standard i.e. nothing artificial involved

The reality:  There is no legal definition of the term ‘natural’.  Trading Standards officers recently found that 79% of the foods labeled ‘natural’ were misleading, with many containing artificial sweeteners.  As there is no guarantee with the term ‘natural’, check for labels that state ‘no artificial sweeteners’, ‘no artificial flavorings’ etc.  Also ‘natural’ food may also have been highly processed to get it supermarket-ready, which can lower nutritional values of a food.


You think it means: Freshly sourced that day, untainted and ready-to-eat

The reality: It’s fresh enough to eat but that’s often because it has been tampered with to extend its natural shelf life.  ‘Fresh’ fruit and veg are often kept in a protective, reduced-oxygen gas mix for weeks whereas ‘fresh’ eggs could have been laid up to nine days ago, and a fresh chicken just means its not been frozen – it may have been killed a while ago outside the UK and kept ‘chilled’ in transport.  To ensure you’re getting a fresh, healthy, balanced diet is to shop at a variety of places, not just the supermarket.  Think greengrocers, farmers’ markets, and local delivery-box schemes. 


Producers undergo a strict certification process, are subject to inspections by a body recognized by DEFRA- such as the Soil Association or Organic Food Federation- and terms like ‘organic’, ‘bio’ or ‘eco’ cant be used without meeting legal requirements.  Although the guidelines set by certification bodies vary, essentially 95% of a product’s ingredients must be organically produced.  Whatever the logo on the label, if you see the word ‘organic’, then you can trust that it is.


Although it holds no legal definition, companies cannot put the Fairtrade mark on a product without meeting international Fairtrade standards.  This refers to: decent working conditions, local sustainability, and fair terms for workers.  Without the official Fairtrade logo, there is no guarantee that such conditions exist


So I don’t get sued for copyright issues, the gist of this post was sourced from:

[Potter, Laura. “Do You Speak Supermarket?” Zest December 2010: P. 36-37]

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