Understanding food labels

Foods that are wrapped (or pre-packed) have lots of information for consumers printed on the packaging, including the list of ingredients, the nutritional information storage instructions, the weight or volume, storage instructions, cooking instructions and more. If the food isn’t pre-wrapped for sale, then the only information that’s required are the Allergens.

There might also be marketing information, pictures, offers, games, competitions….a lot to take in! In terms of knowing what is in the food you are eating, the two important pieces are the Ingredients List and the Nutritional Analysis.

So, what has to be on the label? According to EU law, the information that is mandatory and must appear on the label of a prepacked food is:

(a) the name of the food
(b) the list of ingredients
(c) allergens or processing aids used in the manufacture or preparation of a food and still present in the finished product, even if in an altered form
(d) the quantity of certain ingredients (listed as a %)
(e) the net quantity (weight or volume)
(f) either the Best Before or Use By date

(g) any special storage conditions and/or conditions of use (temperature, time)
(h) the name or business name and address of the food business

(i) the country of origin or place of provenance, if applicable
(j) instructions for use, if required
(k) with respect to beverages containing more than 1.2 % by volume of alcohol, the actual alcoholic strength by volume
(l) Nutrition Declaration

The Ingredients List tells you what was used to make the food, and these are listed in order by weight from largest to smallest. In other words, the first ingredient listed is the largest amount, right down to the last ingredient which is the smallest amount.

The whole E number issue can be confusing, and sometimes people may think that E numbers are all bad. In fact, many naturally occurring foods have their own E number like seaweed (carrageenan or agar), silver and gold even! Many other e-numbers are given to the substances that are extracted from natural products like those from vegetable oils used in bread.

The Allergens (if any) are highlighted in the list of ingredients, usually in bold or italics or underlined.

Nutritional Labelling is required on all foods by law unless you’re a very small producer and only selling small quantities locally (i.e., within a 100km radius).

The nutrition panel has to show:
(a) The energy value (in KJ or kcal), and
(b) The quantities of fat (including saturates), carbohydrate (including sugars), protein and salt – in that order!

The food producer can also choose to give the amount of one or more of the following if they wish to: (a) Monounsaturates, (b) Polyunsaturates, (c) Polyols,
(d) Starch,(e) Fibre, (f) Any of the vitamins or minerals.

The Nutrients must be declared per 100g or per 100ml:

Mandatory Information / 100g or ml
Supplementary Information
(if desired)
Energy (kJ / kcal)
Fat
of which Saturates
of which Monounsaturates
of which Polyunsaturates
Carbohydrate
of which Sugars
of which polyols
of which starch
Fibre
Protein
Salt
Vitamins & Minerals (% RI)
All of these must be listed on the label
The producer MAY include all of these if they should wish to
(either all or none)

Some food labels also include an additional column to show the Nutrition information per portion. For example, per bag, per slice, per sandwich. This is useful for the consumer who may find it tricky to work it out for themselves, but it’s not a legal requirement.
Front of pack labelling is also voluntary – the pack can show the Energy on its own or the Energy, fat, saturates, sugar and salt (all of these).

The terms “Best Before” and “Use By” dates often cause confusion. It’s really important to note that these terms are not interchangeable! “Best Before” generally applies to foods that have a long shelf life and “Use By” applies to perishable foods or foods that, if you eat them after that date, might cause food poisoning. Never take chances with “Use By” dates! Safefood has a great phrase – Best Before is a guideline, Use By is a deadline!

For more information about labelling, check out https://www.fsai.ie/legislation/food_legislation/food_information_fic/general_fic_provisions.html
For more information about allergens: https://www.fsai.ie/legislation/food_legislation/food_information/14_allergens.html

New food trends 2018

What will be the big food trend in 2018? We’ve already seen how protein-enriched food
has moved mainstream, no longer the preserve of the elite athlete or mud-runner! The vegan or the plant based diet as its now known, has grown hugely in popularity, as has vegetarianism.

I came across this great yogurt concept at Gifted in the RDS in December. It’s called ProU, based in Dublin, available widely. Lovely people, great yogurt, made by Killowen Farm in Wexford.

(Photo: Farmers’ Journal)

I suspect that sugar will stay high on the no-no list, and rightly so. Fat isn’t so bad in moderation, (yay for real butter!), and everyone needs their carbs (be gone, Atkins Diet).  The free-from market grows and grows, though it drives me mad when I hear Gluten-free described as “healthy”. It’s no healthier than gluten-containing foods. Don’t get me started, I’ll post about that another day.

Someone said to me last week that they reckon cauliflower will be the veg of choice in 2018. I had a great meal which featured cauli done 5 ways lately in Fallon & Byrne, including great colourful varieties. I was always a fan of cauliflower cheese for supper, with white toast buttered on the side. Delicious! I posted a photo of this on twitter before Christmas.

For me, fresh, healthy, great tasting, convenient, food on the go is something I’m always on the look out for. In 2017, Chopped was a revelation for me – a fantastic concept, well executed.

So what’ll it be? Please get in touch and let me know your thoughts. You’ll get me here or on twitter @oonagheats.

Bread is good for you – it’s official!

I’m very happy to report good news for lovers of white bread like me! A report carried out by the Irish Universities Nutrition Alliance (IUNA), commissioned by the Irish Bread Bakers Association (IBBA) has today announced the findings relating to the consumption of white and wholemeal bread in Ireland.

white-sliced-pan

Happy days – break out the toaster! Personally, I feel totally vindicated now. I’ve always said there’s nothing at all wrong with a slice of white bread. If you stuff a sandwich with lots of fillings, that’s where any fat in the sandwich can come from, but you’re not getting much fat at all, if any, from the bread itself. Wraps, by the way, have more calories that sliced bread, just saying!

The report states that bread contributes 20% to our fibre intake, 9% to our protein intake, while white bread only contributes 1% to our daily fat and sugar intake. Interestingly the study found a direct correlation between those preschool children that ate bread and increased growth and development within that preschool group.

The report, which was a follow on report to one published in 2008, says that 57% of the population eat white bread and 72% eat wholemeal bread. The report also shows that a higher percentage of males (61%) compared to females (52%) consumed bread and males over 65 consumed the highest mean daily intake of bread compared to all other groups (1.3 slices).

Speaking at the launch of the report today, Registered Dietitian/Nutritionist, Dr. Mary McCreery said: “It’s quite fitting ahead of the annual National Bread Week , that we’re seeing the negative comments about bread made by so called “experts”, being challenged by scientific evidence that proves the contrary. Put simply – it’s OK to eat white bread – in fact white bread can contribute to a healthy, balanced diet. It’s an affordable, nutritious food, that has been consumed for thousands of years. It is low in fat, low in sugar and is a good source of carbohydrates, vitamins, calcium, iron, protein, fibre, and folic acid. There are so many untruths about bread in Ireland that are totally unfounded.”

So enjoy your sliced pan – batch is my favourite, toasted under the grill on one side like my Granny used to do. Delicious!