When it comes to food labels, there’s more than meets the eye. Supermarket shelves are filled with rows and rows of products all screaming their own nutritional praises – even the most health-conscious shopper can become stumped. I set the record straight on common, yet confusing- health food buzz words.

Organic

Don’t be misled: the term organic is not regulated in Australia and the only way to guarantee you’re eating organic is to look for the magic word ‘certified’. Anything labelled certified organic has been reviewed by certifying bodies, such as the Organic Food Chain (OFC).

Expert Advice: Not every food is necessarily better when organic. Most research shows no significant differences in key vitamin and mineral content in organic foods. Research has shown some organic foods have slightly higher nutrient levels, such as vitamin C and selenium levels. However, there are other benefits of consuming organic foods, such as animal welfare and sustainability factors to consider.

If buying organic produce is a stretch to the budget, don’t fret. Most Australians would be better off focusing on eating more plant-based foods (e.g. fruit, veg, nuts, legumes) than worrying about whether it is organic or not.

Low Fat

I’m sure you know this one by now. Low fat refers to the reduced fat content in the food to replace the fat, sugar, flavours, and additives are typically added to boost flavour.

Expert Advice: Low fat doesn’t mean low in kilojoules or sugar. Avoid added sucrose, glucose and trans fats. As always, read the label.

High in Antioxidants

If a product is labelled as containing a high level of antioxidants, it’s been fortified with non-naturally occurring compounds. Commonly, iron and vitamins B and D are added to bread and milk. Other antioxidants, like vitamins A, C and E, along with zinc and selenium, can be found in modified foods such as cereals, vegetable oils and soy products.

Expert Advice: These fortified supplements do not replace a bad diet they only top it up. And taking higher than recommended doses of some vitamins may cause problems. For example, the vitamins A, D, E and K are fat soluble, which means they are stored in the body and at high levels can be toxic. Excessive doses of some minerals may also cause problems, for example, iron toxicity which can cause an upset stomach.

Naturally sweetened

When labelled naturally sweetened, a product has been sweetened with plant derivatives such as stevia or xylitol.

Expert Advice: Like anything sweet, moderation is key. These sweeteners taste like sugar but are lower in kilojoules. Remember that natural alternatives still go through a chemical refining process.

This article was originally published in elle.com.au

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