In the Netherlands, every food must have a label. There are also conditions that must be stated on this. A label can sometimes be difficult to read. In this article, I explain how you can read a label .
What should be on a label?
The Commodities Act establishes the minimum that must be stated on the label of a food. Some aspects should always be on the label, such as ingredients and nutritional values. Other aspects only need to be mentioned on the label if applicable, such as allergens and nutritional claims. Some of these aspects are explained below.
Nutritional values on labels
In the nutritional values on the label, at least the following values must be stated per 100 grams or 100 milliliters. The manufacturer is also allowed to put more nutritional values on it, such as the number of vitamins or minerals.
- Calories (kcal)
- Carbohydrates (a)
Sometimes a label says MJ (megajoules). This is a different kind of measure than kcal, which indicates the amount of energy. 1 megajoule equals 239.005736 kcal.
The heading ‘carbs’ on the label consists of all sugars. These are the simple and poly sugars. Simple sugar is also called ‘monosaccharides’. It consists of only one sugar molecule. Glucose, fructose, and lactose (milk sugar) are examples of simple sugars.
Carbohydrates are made up of more sugar molecules. For example, disaccharides: consist of 2 sugar molecules, and oligosaccharides consist of 2 to 9 sugar molecules. The body often takes longer to digest carbohydrates than sugars.
All ingredients of the product must be mentioned in the ingredients list. This part of the label also lists additives, food enzymes, and flavorings.
The ingredients are listed in order of decreasing weight. Volatile ingredients are partly lost during preparation. Of this, only the weight that remains after preparation needs to be stated.
The ingredients that make up less than 2% of the final product do not need to be named in order of decreasing weight.
Some ingredients may be listed as a category; such as breadcrumbs and spices.
Nutritional claims on nutrition labels
A manufacturer wants to say something positive about the composition of the product with a nutritional claim on the label. An example is ‘light’ and ‘rich in fiber’.
There are criteria attached to the various nutritional claims. For example, a product may only be called ‘light’ if it contains 30% less sugar, fat or calories than the regular variant of the product.
Allergens on a food label
Allergens are ingredients in the diet that lead to allergies or food sensitivities in some people. The 14 most common allergens are listed in bold on the label.
These are, for example, shellfish, eggs, fish, and gluten-containing grains. The product should be checked for these allergens. For this, it must also be examined whether the additives do not contain allergens. The additives can be, for example, solvents, carriers, processing aids, and aromas.
Sometimes there are ‘traces of’ on a label. This is called if the food itself does not contain the allergens in principle, but is made in the same factory as a food that does contain the allergen.
E numbers are approved substances that are added to a product. Its function is to improve or change the product. If the product contains e-numbers, this should be stated in the ingredient list on the label.
For example, there are e-numbers that change the color or taste. Other e-numbers ensure that the food has a longer shelf life.