Australian and New Zealand Health Ministers voted to adopt a new set of food laws that will provide a number of important benefits for consumers in December 2001. A major component of the new food laws is the new way that nutrition information panels will be shown on food packaging.
Firstly, virtually all food products will now have to include a nutrition information panel that shows how much energy (kilojoules), protein, fat, saturated fat, carbohydrate, sugar and sodium is present in the food. Previously, only products that made certain claims about the nutritional benefits of their products were required to show a nutrition panel.
A second significant change that will benefit people interested in heart health, is that nutrition information panels will now have to include the level of saturated fat in the food.
Saturated fat is the type of fat that increases blood cholesterol levels, particularly the LDL (‘bad’) cholesterol. All fat in foods contains a mixture of saturated fat, polyunsaturated fat and monounsaturated fat. However, 1 type of fat is present in larger amounts. Saturated fat is the major fat found in foods like meats, dairy products as well as some types of vegetable oils (like palm oil and coconut oil) and the foods made from these oils (eg commercial cakes, biscuits, pastry and fried foods).
Therefore, having information on the saturated fat content on food labels will help people to choose foods lower in saturated fat.
It is important to realise that because saturated fat will now be shown on food labels, it does not necessarily mean the food now has saturated fat, cholesterol or animal fat added to it. It is most likely that the saturated fat was always naturally there – manufacturers were just not required to show the amount on their packaging. For example, even your favourite breakfast cereal (whether it be whole wheat biscuits or wheat flakes) naturally contains some saturated fat, and the level will be shown on product label. However these cereals (like most cereals) are both very low in total fat and saturated fat, and are healthy food choices.
Which foods are low in saturated fat?
Generally, foods low in total fat content are also low in saturated fat, for example most breakfast cereals. Low fat foods are those with no more than 3g fat/100g (3%) for solid foods or 1.5g fat/100mL for liquid foods.
For high fat foods (like table spreads and cooking oils), choose those that are labelled as either ‘polyunsaturated’ or ‘monounsaturated’, as these are lower in saturated fats. Spreads and oils made from canola, sunflower or olive oil are healthy choices.
Nuts, such as cashews, peanuts, almonds, hazelnuts and even peanut butter are also relatively low in saturated fat. Although high in total fat content, they contain only small proportions of saturated fat. In addition, eating nuts is associated with protection against heart disease.
Manufacturers have 2 years to implement the new food labelling laws. If you have any questions about the information on your favourite products and whether they are suitable for your particularly dietary needs, you may wish to talk with the manufacturer directly.
This article was prepared by the nutritionists at Sanitarium Nutrition Service.