Shoppers are being warned that they may need to look twice at the serving sizes listed on nutritional information labels.
It is common for products to list the amount of nutrients found in a single serving of a product. A box of muesli, for example, might say how much sugar, fat and fibre there is in a 30g bowl.
But nutritionists say the serving size is a confusing measure because different products use different sizes to represent a “serving” – which then allows them to alter the amount of things such as sugar that the label must say a serving contains.
Vicky Carson, of Nourish Me, said serving sizes were not always realistic.
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“If you’re feeding a middle-aged hard-working male muesli, which is usually a 45g serving size, chances are he’ll be having 100g minimum. Or tomato sauce, a good old kiwi classic, has a serving size of one tablespoon – I barely know anyone that would stop at that amount when having sauce with their dinner.”
Consumer NZ agreed it was an issue. The advocacy group has previously called for serving sizes to be standardised and monitored.
Even within the same product range, serving sizes vary.
Consumer NZ pointed to Anchor Butter in New Zealand, which has a serving size of 5g. In the US, its serving size is 1g.
Chantal Organics Jumbo Rolled Oats has a serving size of 50g while Homebrand has 30g. Arataki Honey has a 5g serving size on its “Squeeze Me” bottles and Airborne has 20g on its honey.
Primo chocolate milk says a serving size is 200ml, so if you drank the whole bottle you would consume three servings. Wave chocolate milk says the whole 600ml is one serving.
Carson said shoppers choosing products were best to look at the “per 100g” column on the nutritional label and visualise the quantities as percentages.
“Tomato sauce has 30g sugar per 100g – if we visualise 30 per cent of the sauce on our plate as sugar, that can give us a better representation of the nutritional value of the product than thinking ‘oh well, a serve doesn’t have too much so it can’t be too bad’.”
She said it was also important to look at the ingredient list.
“Products have a great way of tricking us into buying them. The front of the packet might say ‘low sugar’ or ‘low in fat’ and the general consumer would put it in their trolley purely for that reason, but we need to look at the ingredients list. Packaged foods often contain high sugars or are loaded with additives and preservatives,” she said.
“A rule of thumb that I give my client is ‘if you can’t buy the ingredients from the supermarket to make it yourself, put it back’. We need to stick to the basics. Avoid the additives, the numbers in the ingredients list, and remember that we are meant to be eating proper wholesome and natural food.”