Understanding Food Labels Part 3: Ingredients List
The ingredients list can give you important information about the food product and what it contains, particularly if you are concerned about allergens or food additives. If you can make sense of it of course and know what to look for!
All ingredients are listed in descending order by weight. So if fat*, sugar** or salt*** is listed as one of the first few ingredients it is unlikely to be a good choice. But be careful, they may not be listed as these names.
Have you ever checked an ingredients list to see what herb might be in that dip you have just been enjoying to see it’s not there? All they have listed is ‘herbs, spices’. Well, if an ingredient makes up less than 5% of a product it does not need to be listed, unless of course it is a food additive, allergen or a characterising ingredient. These must be listed regardless of how small the amount.
A characterising ingredient is an ingredient mentioned in the name of the product or is shown on the label as a picture, word or graphic. It will be listed in the ingredients list showing the percentage of the product in brackets. For example, ‘Baked Beans – rich tomato’ has the following ingredients: Navy beans (50%) Rich tomato sauce (50%) [tomato puree (26%), water, sugar, maize thickener (1422), salt, natural flavour].
*Some other names for fat or ingredients that contain fat may be seen as:
Beef fat, butter, chocolate, coconut, coconut oil, copha, cream, dripping, full cream milk powder, ghee, hydrogenated oils, lard, mayonnaise, mono- di- or triglycerides, palm oil, shortening, sour cream, suet, tallow, vegetable oil and fats.
**Some other names for salt or ingredients that contain salt may be seen as:
Baking soda, baking powder, celery salt, chicken salt, monosodium glutamate (MSG), meat or yeast extract, garlic salt, rock salt, sea salt, soy sauce, sodium, sodium bicarb, sodium sorbate, sodium nitrate, stock cubes, vegetable salt.
*** Some other names of sugar or ingredients that contain sugar may be seen as:
Brown sugar, corn syrup, dextrose, disaccharides, fructose, fruit juice concentrate, glucose, golden syrup, honey, lactose, malt, malt extract, maltose, mannitol, molasses, maple syrup, molasses, monosaccharides, palm sugar, raw sugar, sorbitol, sucrose, treacle, xylitol.