Photo by: Annelien Pienaar Food Consultant (

Are you a consumer of prepacked, preserved, reconstituted foods. Do you need to interpret food labels and all that technical jargon? Are you easily buying a bag of food because it states that it is trans-fat free, or free from anything or low in a specific ingredient? Does beautiful packaging attract you? Do you ever read the back of the label?

As a Food Scientist and being part of the food technology processes in South Africa, more and more I find myself questioning the reasoning behind added ingredients to products to make it taste better (MSG’s) and telling our minds we must have more of this specific product. Or things like preservatives… To me the word preservative must be better categorized in the sense that we look at natural and healthy preservatives like sugar, acids, salt etc. But when we start looking at a food label and there are codes that are not even legible, I start to doubt in the health of this product for my body, even though it tells me it is fat-free or sugar free (did you look at the back of the label? Did you see that there is still a minute quantity of carbohydrates that translate to a form of sugar?

Preserving food was a way of building food staples in time of famine, war and drought. But in the 1960’s there was an industrial revolution of exploding quantities of preserved foods, like meat, pasta and so more. But the industry did not know about Clostridium botulinum, the silent killer of food poisoning. So, with this problem they started with food engineering and we ended up with synthetic preservatives, colorants and flavorants in our food. Making the world more sick, creating food allergies and more. We need to live from the land…eat fresh and process fresh as possible. Do your own canning of sauces, blanching veggies for freezing. Stay away from processed foods.

To understand the Food label debacle, you need to understand what your body’s kilojoule needs per day are and how to calculate a recipe’s kJ count. Please take the following links down below and calculate your kJ needs per day. Be very honest about your answers and state the facts. As for me when I am busy with research and writing, I am at my computer for the bigger part of 12 hours, not doing any exercise and need to consume less kJ per day. Then I just recalculate my kJ needs and work accordingly.

Kilojoule intake per person per day
Please click on the following red link to do a calculation of your kilojoule intake value per day. I have found this site as very accurate and also free of charge. Kilojoules Calculator

Kilojoule calculator for recipes
The following red link will provide you with an estimate of what a recipe’s kilojoule count is going to be, to bring this then into count for your total personal kJ intake per day. Just by keeping track of this once in three months will set you off not even to lose weight but feeling healthy and energetic. Your family will have balanced meals. Recipe kilojoule calculator

How to plan for easy meals
As a Food Scientist I firmly believe in having balanced meals including all 5 food groups: Proteins, vegetables and fruits, fat, carbohydrates, dairy products.

The Diabetic Association of South Africa put the 5 food groups into a very practical visual to parents and children. Take a dinner plate and put in front of you. Take a marker and to this exercise:

Take a R5 coin and place it in the centre of the plate to represent the amount of permitted fats per day. The plate is then further divided into half: this half represents vegetables cooked or uncooked for this meal. The bottom half of the plate is divided into quarters. The first quarter is the permitted amount of protein and the second quarter represents carbohydrates.

Now you can see how a balanced meal must look like. Keeping this in mind when plating your food and your kilojoules count as well.

Food Labels and interpretation
Please have a food label in front of you when reading this section to fully comprehend the extend of the information

All food labels by international law (FDA regulations) need to indicate the contents and energy value of the product per 100 g / 100 ml and per recommended serving size. All the information in this document is then referred to as as per 100 g / 100 ml.

Ingredients list
The ingredients are listed in order of weight, with the largest quantity first. If a product lists ingredients that you are trying to have less of at the beginning of the list, you would know that the product contains more of those ingredients than the ones at the end of the list and you may want to find a more suitable alternative.

Nutritional information table
The nutritional information table provides information about the energy and nutrients a product contains. The key things to look for in this table are the energy, protein, carbohydrates, sugar, fats, fibre and sodium content. The information is usually presented per 100g or 100ml and per the recommended serving size.
The best way to decide if a product is suitable for you is to evaluate the nutrients per 100g or 100ml, as products have different recommended serving sizes and the serving indicated on the label can be either less or more that what you normally consume.
When comparing products, the same rule applies, look at the 100g or 100ml information as you will then be comparing like for like.

How do I interpret the energy value on the table?
Energy: by understanding how much energy a food item provides, as well as knowing how much is needed for us to maintain, lose or gain weight, we can evaluate whether a product is suitable as a meal or snack or neither.

The standard unit of measurement for food energy is kilojoules in South Africa. Product labels may represent the energy information in both kilojoules and calories (1 calorie (kcal) = 4.18 kilojoules). Terms such as “reduced”, “less than”, “fewer”, “light” or “lite” have little meaning if you do not have a reference to the energy or nutrient value of the original product and should not be used as the key deciding factor between two products.

Key nutritional ingredients explained

1. The 100 g column and serving size
If comparing nutrients in similar food products use the per 100 g column. If calculating how much of a nutrient or, how many kilojoules you will actually eat, use the per serve column. But check whether your portion size is the same as the serve size.

Energy: Check how many kJ per serve to decide how much is a serve of a food is needed to complete your daily intake.

2. Fat
Fat is divided into saturated and unsaturated fats of which unsaturated fats are sub divided into poly- and mono unsaturated fats.

Unsaturated fats: are those fats that are solid at room temperature and needs to be taken in moderation due to the fact that it raises bad cholesterol. What is LDL and HDL cholesterol? LDL (low-density lipoprotein cholesterol, also called “bad”cholesterol) HDL (high-density lipoprotein cholesterol, also called “good” cholesterol.)

Total fat per day: generally choose foods with less than 10 g per 100 g per day. For milk, yogurt and icecream, choose less than 2 g per 100g. For cheese, choose less than 15 g per 100 g. Saturated fat: Aim for the lowest per 100 g, less than 3 g per 100g is the best.

Reduced Fat
At least 25% less fat than the original product in the same brand, but the food may still be high in fat.

% Fat free
Can only be used for “low fat” product with the percentage based on the weight of fat in 100 grams of food. (In a 100 gram serving of food marked 98% fat free, that serving has 2 grams of fat.)

Cholesterol Free
This does not mean low fat. Cholesterol is only found in food which contains animal fats (only animal’ make cholesterol – plants do not). For example, vegetable oils (canola, olive, sunflower etc) are cholesterol free, but are 100% fat.

‘Light’ or ‘Lite’
This does not necessarily mean low in energy or fat etc. It may mean light in colour, lightly toasted, light in salt, light in taste.

Other names for fat: animal fat/oil, beef fat, butter, chocolate, milk solids, coconut, coconut oil/milk/cream, copha, cream, ghee, dripping, lard, suet, palm oil, sour cream, vegetable shortening.

3. Carbohydrates / Sugars
If the sugar content per 100 g is more than 15 g, check that sugar (or alternative names for added sugar) is not listed high on the ingredient list.

No added Sugar: No added refined sugars. It does not necessarily mean the food is low in sugar, because the food may be high in natural sugars (for example, fruit juices).

Usually means artificially sweetened.
Get clever about the carbohydrates you choose: The glycaemic carbohydrate value includes sugars and starches that are available to the body for metabolism. Fruit, vegetables, breads, crackers, grains, cereals, milk and milk products all contain carbohydrates.
The glycaemic carbohydrate value is followed by the total amount of sugar a product contains. This value does not differentiate between naturally occurring sugars such as those found in fruit (fructose) and milk (lactose) and added sugars.
‘Sugar free’ claims can only be used when a product contains ≤ 0.5 g sugar per 100g/ml product. The dietary fiber value can be used as a guideline to choose carbohydrate foods. These foods are high in fibre if the fibre content is ≥6 g per 100g (AOAC method of analysis, as shown at the bottom of the table).

According to the Council of the European Union regulation of 2006 a products are low in sugar of the product contains no more than 5 g sugars per 100g solids or 2.5 g of sugars per 100 ml liquids. As most breakfast cereals contain more than this we recommend you to use the upper limit of 12.5 g sugar for breakfast cereals as recommended by the UK food Standards Agency

Other names for sugar: dextrose, fructose, glucose, golden syrup, honey, maple syrup, sucrose, malt, maltose, lactose, brown sugar, caster sugar, maple syrup, raw sugar, sucrose.

Source of fibre
More than 1g of fibre per 100g

High Fibre
At least 3g of fibre per 100g

4. Sodium (Salt)
Salt is found naturally in many foods like meat and vegetables but is also added to foods to improve taste and shelf life. It is recommended that you should limit your salt intake to a maximum of 2000mg sodium per day that equals 5g (1 teaspoon) of salt in total. A product labeled ‘low salt’ should contain ≤120mg sodium/100g product or ≤300 mg salt/100g product (1g salt = 400mg sodium).

Other names for salt: Baking powder, celery salt, garlic salt, meat/yeast extracts, mononsium glutamate (MSG), onion salt, rock salt, sea salt, sodium, sodium ascorbate, sodium bicarbonate, sodium nitrate/ nutrite, stock cubes, vegetable salt.

Date Marking
‘Best Before’
Foods with a shelf life of less than two years have a ‘best before’ date. It may still be safe to use these foods after this date, but they have lost quality and some nutritional value.

‘Use by’
Foods that should not be consumed after a certain period of time for health.

Planning ahead

Making use of electrical appliances makes cooking almost feel like no work and lots of play. I am providing you with a list of appliances that I do recommend to buy as time go by in the order of priority.

1. Pressure cooker with dual function for frying and slow cooker option. The other word to look for is Instant pots and slow cookers are also often referred to as crock pots. Check the specification sheets of the product to see all the functions indicated.
2. Slow cooker / Crock pot
3. Microwave oven or combination oven
4. Oven (thermo or conventional)
5. Freezer
6. Casserole dishes with lids made of cast-iron or clay or enamel

Cooking methods
Par boiling
This term is often referring to foods that is partially cooked and then frozen for later use. Starches like pasta, rice, muffins, bread, pizza and more is cooked in this way to save on time spent in the kitchen. Stocking up your freezer will result in a freezer filled with healthy “fast food” items ready to be used.

By blanching vegetables like spinach, green beans, pumpkin, tomatoes, potatoes, carrots and more will result in all year round stock of good and healthy produce without the harmful chemicals.

Stir fry
Onion, celery, mushrooms, pepper family, chilli can be stir fried and frozen with ease.

Making your own pasta sauces is so easy and in my cookbook there is a vast range of these ideas to make use of and ready to be reaped from the pantry shelve to add to cooked mince. In less than 10 minutes you will have pasta on the table.

Having dried mixtures like the basic white sauce in my Boerekos with a twist cookbook is a life saver when in a rush. There is on the website Soup powder mix to have in stock.

Making your own pasta is easy and it can be dried and stored in the pantry in dry conditions. Fruits like pineapple and apple do dry easy in the dehydrators and a good source of natural energy and fiber for snacks to pack for work and school. Veggies can also be dehydrated like mushrooms, onion, tomatoes and more. I often use mushroom powder (after drying the mushrooms, grinding it into a powder) as a thickener for sauces and soups. This way you side step added carbohydrates in the diet.

Frozen foods are wonderful to have in stock but care should be taken and critical control points should be adhered to for food safety. When preparing protein rich foods there is risk factors like salmonella, listeriosis to be taking into account. Let say you prepare a flavourful mince base to be frozen in 500 g portions for a family of 4. You need to take care to cool every portion with in 30 min. This rule apply to all cooked foods that is to be frozen. The core temperature should drop to 14C asap. By pressing the food very flat in a big open oven dish will ensure that the large the surface area…the quicker the product will cool. Once cooled, scoop into bags or containers and freeze. I also apply the rule when packaging: all foods will be as flat as possible to ensure quick and rapid defrosting.
Once food is needed take out of the freezer and thaw in your refrigerator if possible or microwave. These foods should be consumed immediately and not be frozen again. Pathogens may grow and cause food poisoning or even death.

Further read with regards to South African Food legislation:

Food legislation resorts under Department of Agriculture

1. Foodstuffs, Cosmetics and Disinfectants Act, 1972 (Act 54 of 1972), R.146, 1 March 2010.

Linda Drummond, BSc Med (Hons) Nutrition & Dietetics (UCT)

Food manufacturers, nutritionists and the public have been waiting for what was termed the “new” SA Food Labelling Regulations since 1993 when the last set of regulations governing food labelling and advertising was published in this country.

Seventeen years is a long time to wait, but now at last, on 1 of March 2010, the Department of Health published “New Regulations Relating to the Labelling and Advertising of Foodstuffs” as part of the Foodstuffs, Cosmetics and Disinfectant Act.
What does this mean to the consumer?
The entire purpose of these revised and updated Food Labelling Regulations is to make life easier for consumers by providing them with additional and relevant information on the labels of the foods they purchase, and to regulate what is said in food advertisements.

Both these improvements will permit consumers to make more informed decisions when selecting foodstuffs.
These new Food Labelling Regulations will cause a flurry of activity in manufacturing circles as manufacturers rush to make their labels and their advertising comply with the many new stipulations of these regulations.
Probably the most relevant changes for consumers are those labelling specifications that refer to nutritional value claims which have often confused the public.

According to the new regulations no manufacturer may make a nutrition claim about his food product unless that food has been analysed in an accredited laboratory and the content of the specific nutrient or nutrients is greater than a specified amount per serving.

The wording permitted to announce that a food contains a lot or very little of a nutrient has also been specified, as follows:
• Terms that have been banished include: “rich in, excellent source, good source, enriched X, with added Y, or contains Z”
• Terms that are permitted are: “Low, free or virtually free, source, high or very high”
In addition to restricting the descriptive terms that may be used to describe the nutritive properties of foods, the new regulations lay down precise guidelines for determining which descriptive term may be used in each nutrient category.
For example a food can only be labelled as “Low” in energy if it contains not more than 170 kJ per 100g (solids) or 80 kJ per 100 ml (liquids). Conversely a food can only be labelled as “High in energy” if it provides 950 kJ per 100g (solids) or 250 kJ per 100 ml (liquids).

This means that a number of foods which have been selling as low-energy or energy-reduced foods will no longer qualify and that many foods that have been touted as “energy-rich” especially for athletes and people suffering from HIV/Aids will also either have to change their formulas or their ads.

The specifications for fat also give clear-cut guidance to the public:
• Foods can only be labelled as “Low fat” if they contain not more than 3 g of total fat per 100g (solids) or 1.5g of total fat per 100 ml (liquids)
• For saturated fat, the food may only be labelled as “Low in saturated fat” if it contains not more than 1.5 g per 100 g (solids) or 0.75 g per 100 ml (liquids) and not more than 10% of the energy content. This should make the selection of low energy and low fat foods much easier.
Prohibited statements.

As a dietician I welcome the list of prohibited statements specified in the new regulations, namely:
• No food may be labelled or advertised to create the impression that it is supported or endorsed by a health practitioner (e.g. medical doctor, dietician, etc) or be endorsed or associated with an individual where such a testimonial implies a nutrition claim (Mrs X has lost 20 kg by using product Y)
• The use of the terms “health” or “healthy”, or “wholesome or nutritious”
• The implication that a given food provides complete or balanced nutrition
• That the food can “cure” any medical condition

Negative claims
We are all aware of sales tactics where a manufacturer states that, for example, olive oil A is “cholesterol-free”, whereas if you think about this statement, you will realise that all plant oils do not contain any cholesterol and that the claim mentioned above, is actually misleading.

The manufacturer of the olive oil will be permitted to say “A naturally cholesterol free food” to indicate to the public that it is not only his olive oil, but all olive and other plant oils that are free of cholesterol.

However, when additives that are permitted in a certain class of food and a manufacturer produces a product that does not contain that additive, he will be allowed to inform the public that his product is for example “MSG free”.

The statement “No added sugar” is prohibited if the food or beverage should contain “added sugar” as defined in the new regulations, namely sugar, honey, molasses, sucrose, coloured sugar, fruit juice concentrate, deflavoured and/or deionised fruit juice and concentrates, high-fructose corn syrup and malt, or any other syrup of various origins.

In other words, those products that have been advertised as “No sugar added” because no sucrose or table sugar has been included in their formulations, but that do contain fruit juice or concentrates or fructose or honey or any of the above mentioned sugar-containing components, will no longer be able to claim that they are “sugar-free”.

Allergens and Additives
I am also pleased that common allergens (gluten, milk, eggs, soya, peanuts and tree nuts, shellfish or crustaceans, or significant cereals (wheat, rye, barley, oats, and titricale which is a cross between wheat and rye) must be indicated on food labels. Additives such as Tartrazine (E 102 or Yellow No. 5), MSG, sulphur dioxide and related compounds (sodium sulphite, sodium bisulphite, hydrogen sulphites and metabisulphites) must also be declared on labels. Uncommon allergens (i.e. an allergen which is not classified as a common allergen as described above), must be disclosed by manufacturers upon request by a consumer, inspector or the Department of Health. These provisions will make life much easier for those consumers who suffer from allergies or sensitivities to avoid foods and beverages which contain the specific allergen or allergens they react to.

Date of commencement
These new labelling regulations will become mandatory 12 months after the date of publication, in other words on the 1st of March 2011. The only exception, is the regulation referring to misleading nutrient content claims mentioned above under ‘Negative claims’ which must be in place within 3 months. A second phase of regulations which has been promised for later this year will define issues such as food advertising to children, the glycaemic index (GI) and a list of foods that are considered nonessential for a healthy diet. It has been a long, long wait, but the Directorate of Food Control of the Department of Health is to be congratulated for making our new SA Labelling Regulations a reality.
(Reference: Foodstuffs, Cosmetics & Disinfectants Act, 1972 (Act 54 of 1972). Regulations relating to the labelling & advertising of foodstuffs. No. R 146. Government Gazette, No 32975, 1 March 2010)
(Dr IV van Heerden, DietDoc, March 2010)

This article was compiled by Annelien Pienaar and with the intention to inform and educate the public. None of this information is used to enrich me as the composer of this document. All relevant contributing information was referred to in this article by means of direct links to the source on the world wide web.

I am a Food Science lecturer and consultant. Having my own studio I present healthy food preparation classes on a regular basis: Fermented foods like: Sourdough bread, Cheese making, Fermented veggies and fruits for gut health and overall personal health. Talks on Brain food for sustained energy and learning perspectives.

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