Healthy Food Aisle

Healthy - it's the catch phrase - that's led to supermarkets dedicating entire aisles to health foods but understanding the products in the health food section could be more complicated than we think.

Sarah Balif from the Cancer Council, many of us are misreading the labels-- dairy free, gluten free, fat free - they're common words on the front of many packets - but according to Sarah it doesn't mean they're necessarily right for you.

"By taking the gluten out of food we actually need to replace it with something and unfortunately that's usually sugar and fat to increase the taste and the texture of the food" so gluten free, doesn't necessarily mean it will help you lose weight - and Sarah says it can even cause an imbalance in your diet. "If people without coeliac disease go gluten free unfortunately they run the risk of missing out on important nutrients by excluding foods like wheat from their diet."

So how do you decipher what's really behind the health food message on the front, Sarah says "the front of a packet is really just advertising you're not going to get any useful information from the front of the pack it's just to make you choose that product."

It's what's on the flip side that tells the tale, and Sarah suggests there are three main things to watch out for- Sugar, Sodium and Fat.

"Some of the foods in the health food aisle are just as processed and unhealthy as foods in the confectionary aisle and we need check the labels to verify this."

The next thing is the quantities of those three key components, so if you're buying a savoury snack - Sarah recommends you go for no more than 400 grams of sodium and less than 10 grams of fat per serve.

For a sweet snack - Sarah says to look for products with less than 15 grams of sugar per serve.

Dr Rosanna Capolingua from Healthway agrees reading labels is time consuming, "the print is very small the numbers are miniscule and you have to not only read one packet but you're needing to compare to try find the best one for your kids."

She's pushing for a food labelling policy known as the traffic light system, "red amber and green light for fats salts and sugars in foods it would be much easier for everyone."

It works like this - products must meet the mark for levels of sugar, fat and salt - simply. The tick of approval coming from three consecutive green lights, Rosanna says "you could pick up a package and see three green lights and go right I know I've got at least that covered or three red lights and go that's not my choice."

It's a strategy that is used around the world but in Australia there's resistance.

But until then, it's up to consumers to navigate the complications of packaging, or of course, our health experts say there is an easier way, by simply opting for old fashioned fresh favourites. "We are very lucky to have a whole variety of fresh fruits and vegetables that are delicious, healthy, unprocessed, unpackaged and good for kids do that first."