• Xanthi Maragkoudaki, PhD, RNutr

Misleading quotes on food packaging

Free from…

You will see very often the free from claim. Free from GMOs, free from processed sugars, fat free, gluten free. This often has very little significance. Claims that water is gluten free is just an effort to attract consumers, as it would never have any gluten. Free from processed sugar can often mean very little. When the concentration in natural sugars is very high, your insulin response would be the same as with a lower concentration of white sugar.

Also, gluten free products are made for people with celiac disease. People with no problem may want to cut down on foods rich in gluten but it is not necessary to have a gluten free diet. The same stands for dairy free products. If you have observed a dairy intolerance you may benefit from dairy free products eitherwise a dairy free diet is not necessary for everyone. Organic cow milk though may be preferable due to the way cow milk is produced and it is worth trying goat’s milk.

It is very important not to raise children with a gluten and dairy free diet if they do not have a medical condition. If a baby is not exposed to gluten it is more likely that it will have gluten intolerance in the future. Whist, dairy is important for the development of children. Always consult your doctor if you want to exclude a food group from your child’s diet.

All in all, always consider does this claim actually matter? Would it benefit my family or me?

With added vitamins and minerals…

If you get a drink full of preservatives and sugar but it includes vitamins and minerals, you may end up justifying an indulgence or making the wrong decision because of these claims. I think this is something we see very often in children’s foods and snacks. As parents often believe that their children don’t take enough nutrients, they may give them such snacks to provide them with all the vitamins and minerals. However, the nutrients coming from food are better absorbed and these foods are often very high in sugar or preservatives. A balanced diet is the best way to get our nutrients. However, there are supplements designed for children that you can give as drops (provided by NHS) or sprinkle over food.

Made with…

You would often see food packaging referring to one ingredient such as “with honey, with black rice” but when you actually look at the ingredients you may find this food way down the list, meaning its concentration is very low. The nut drinks that are very popular at the moment are a very good example. It is worth looking at those ingredients; sometimes your almond milk does not contain only almonds or it may be made with 2 almonds in a liter of water. Quite an expensive bottle of water, don’t you think?


I actually do prefer organic products for my family but if the cost gets really high you should know that some foods are more resistant to pesticides than other so that could help your family budget. Most importantly, though, just because something is organic doesn’t mean you can consume it in great quantities. Sometimes organic, artisan products do not follow the traffic light labelling system so make sure you actually read the concentrations of sugars, fats and calories yourself. Remember anything organic is not a cure-all potion.

Packed with protein...

OK I have to admit that this is one of my favourites as I am always drawn to these products myself. As I have mentioned in previous post that protein does help you feel fuller for longer and may be beneficial for your metabolism. However, if you look at the ingredients lists closer you may notice that such claims can be misleading. Very often protein snacks do offer you 7-9g of protein but they are also packed with 11-20 g of sugars. This amount of sugar will make you feel hungry shortly after so the snack will not provide you with the benefits protein would. A much-preferred solution is a boiled egg with spinach (found in many supermarkets nowadays) or a handful of nuts with a fresh fruit. The fiber and the protein content will keep you full and nourish your body. You will probably save some money too.

How to outsmart the packaging?

  • Always look at the ingredients list. Ingredients are listed based on their concentration. Therefore, you will know if that “made with honey” snack is actually made with corn syrup.

  • Think why are you consuming that food, why do you need it. Is it a post-workout energy snack? Is it part of your breakfast? Is it a snack to keep you going? Is it a snack to provide you with 1 of your 5 a day? In other words, do you need the ready-made snack or can you replace it with something that will satisfy your hunger and nourish your body more efficiently?

  • Always remember that one good ingredient does not counteract the damage bad ingredients can make. So a fried superfood is not going to protect you from the damage trans fats can make.

  • Do not trust the trends and the packaging that follows the trend. Diet trends come and go but a healthy balanced diet is always “in fashion” and the only one you and your family really needs. The reason nutrition scientists, including myself, insist on evidence based nutrition is because diet trends are not thoroughly tested so we cannot know if they are indeed beneficial or if they can be harmful.

  • When in doubt consult a registered nutritionist. A consultation could help clarify misunderstandings and help you improve your nutritional habits for life.

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