Food Labelling: Tricky Names of Sugar, Sodium, Trans Fat and the Difference in Expired Statements

Did you know how the ingredients of your pack of chocolate chips cookies written? What kind of sugar and salt contained in the cookies? Or have you checked when will your minced meat best consumed before? Or how many days more your cheese bread will hold its perfect shape?

There are eight basics of food labelling according to the regulation of the National Agency of Drug and Food Control of Republic of Indonesia Number 31 of 2018 about Processed Food Labels. But at this time, we will dig more about the two basics that are the list of ingredients and the difference in expired statements of the expiry date, 'Best Before' date, and 'Use By' date on the food packaging you just bought perhaps yesterday. Knowing these should be necessary to make ourselves become a wiser consumer and improve your knowledge since we still rely on processed foods to feed our tummy!

List of Ingredients

Ingredients are listed in descending order based on each quantity. With the list of ingredients of chocolate chips cookies above, the enriched wheat flour as the first ingredient listed contributes the highest amount, while the sunflower lecithin as the last ingredient listed has the least amount. Not that simple, the listed ingredients can trick us with their other names that we might have not heard it before especially for sugar, sodium, and trans fats. What are those? 

You need to know that sugar is not always written simply as s-u-g-a-r.

Some people can't drink tea without one or two teaspoons of sugar. Yes but please remember that eating up excessive amount of sugar is known to have several unhealthy effects – increase your high blood sugar and chronic inflammation, raise your risk of heart disease, or even higher accumulation of fat leading to weight gain.

When you want to buy a bottled chocolate drink, you see sugar listed as the fifth ingredient and assume it is not that bad. But what if the list of ingredients on a pack of white chocolate has molasses or agave? Although both are sugars with different names, you might don't know it at first. Therefore, we have listed – so far – 71 other names for sugar for you!

There are many terms of sodium.

Besides being a source of salt in our diets, it is also used to preserve fresh fish and meats (1) and enhance flavors (2) in the meal. However, we should start to be aware since it contributes to our daily salt intake since too much sodium can raise blood pressure, increase risk for heart disease and stroke. In Indonesia, it is recommended to consume 1 teaspoon equals 5 gram of salt daily. When reading list of ingredients on food labels, you may read these other names of sodium: salt, sodium, baking soda (sodium bicarbonate), baking powder (sodium hydrogen carbonate), disodium or trisodium phosphate (DSP/TSP), monosodium glutamate (MSG), and natrium (Na).

Who's the trickiest of them all? Probably, trans fats.

Trans fats raise the bad cholesterol (low-density cholesterol or LDL) and decrease the good cholesterol HDL (high-density cholesterol or HDL) on your body in elevating your risk of developing heart disease and stroke. LDL contributes to fatty buildups in arteries, while HDL functions to prevent the occurrence of narrowing of blood vessels due to fat by carrying the cholesterol back to the liver.

It is imperative to get it in your mind that you will not find these listed as trans fats. Thus, it can be written as the ingredients that contain it: trans-fatty acids, hydrogenated vegetable oil, partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, trans unsaturated fat, hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated unsaturated fat, and any other tricky versions of the word 'hydrogenated' (3). These are some foods that may contain trans fat: chocolate bar, wafers, shortening, margarine, ice cream, pizza (frozen or fresh), fast food like french fries, fried chicken, and baked goods like cakes and cookies.

Foods can call themselves 'trans fat-free' but just because something is trans fat-free, that doesn't necessarily mean it's healthy and completely trans fat-free. You will still need to read the Nutrition Facts label carefully since such foods may have small amounts of trans fat. Here are some alternatives you can try to switch that have no more than 2 grams of saturated fat per tablespoons such as canola, corn, safflower, soybean, sunflower, and olive oils.

Before going to the next topic, let's discuss a bit: after reading all those three points above, which ones are the sugar, sodium, and trans fat on the chocolate chips cookies? Think for a while and find the answers below! 

Expired Statements

The expired statement or expiration date in food is a benchmark date determined which food should no longer be eaten according to the estimation of anticipated shelf life or operation by regulation in each country. After expiring, food often grows bacteria, mold, and yeast. Spoiled food will have changed texture and color, smell unpleasant, and taste no good before it is unsafe to consume.

In general, there are three kinds of expired statements on food packaging.

1. Expiry date

The date states the last day food is safe to consume so that it is basically a safety indicator of food. Past the date, the food may not contain the same nutrition content on the Nutrition Facts label and should be discarded. Some food categories that are required to put the expiration date: complementary foods of infant formula, nutritional supplements, pre-prepared food, and including those that may lose its nutrient content over time. Oh, one more thing! Usually, it is typed in the packaging as 'EXP' or 'ED' followed by the expiry date.

2. 'Best Before' date

The 'best before' date ensures the effectiveness of several properties in the product. Once the date has passed, the food will not be in its best quality – there might be decreases in aroma, flavor, freshness, nutrients, texture, or taste. Consuming the food should after the date should still be safe and not harmful as long as we check the senses. However, it only applies to unopened shelf-stable packaging because it is prone to contamination once exposed to air (4). These conclude that the 'best before' date is basically a quality indicator of the product. To sum up, the term generally appears on foods with a longer shelf life such as dry pasta, condiments, bread, uncooked rice, and tinned products.

3. 'Use By' date

The third one is 'use by' date appears to perishable or quickly-spoiled foods that need to be refrigerated like fresh meat, fish, dairy products, packed fruits and vegetables, and ready-prepared salad. In the wake of its 'use by' date, the food may still look fine but invisible harmful bacteria can't be seen while also do not have a smell. Consuming the food later past the date can put you at risk of food poisoning or cause any other illness.

Make your consumption wiser so that you can reduce food wastage from your home. Oh, before we end this writing, here are the answers regarding the list of ingredients of the chocolate chips cookies:

  • Sugar: Cane sugar

  • Sodium: Sea salt

  • Trans fats: Palm margarine

Stay tuned for more tips and information sharing about food science into your everyday thoughts from us! ;-)


(1): Albarracin W, Sanchez IC, Grau R, Barat JM. 2011. Salt in food processing; usage and reduction: a review. International Journal of Food Science and Technoolgy. 46: 1329-1336.

(2): Liem DG, Keast R, Miremadi F. 2011. Reducing sodium in foods: the effect on flavor. Nutrients. 3(6): 694-711.

(3): Dhaka V, Gulia N, Ahlawat KS, Khatkar BS. 2011. Trans fats–sources, health risks and alternative approach - A review. J Food Sci Technol. 48(5): 534-541.

(4): Zielińska D, Bilska B, Marciniak-Lukasiak K, Lepecka A, Trzaskowska, Neffe-Skocińska K, Tomaszewska M, Syzdłowska A, Kołożyn-Krajewska D. 2020. Consumer Understanding of the Date of Minimum Durability of Food in Association with Quality Evaluation of Food Products After Expiration. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 17(5): 1632.

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