Food authorities in Australia and New Zealand have criticised labels that imply food is a healthy choice, often with little nutritional basis.

Labels such as 'low fat', 'light' and 'no cholesterol' have come under fire from the Australian New Zealand Food Authority, which has conducted research into consumer response to these labels. The research indicates consumers are often drawn towards products boasting these labels, which are often so vague as to be meaningless.

Some of the claims are downright misleading, with some 'lite' or 'light' claims actually referring to the colour or texture of a product rather than its fat content, reports the Herald and Weekly.

"Things which concern us include cholesterol-free claims, because the link between food and high blood cholesterol is not as strong as it was once thought to be," said ANZFA spokeswoman Lydia Buchtmann.

With obesity on the rise in Australia as in many other developed countries, ANZFA is concerned to see greater transparency on food labels. The authority is optimistic that federal legislation requiring all food packaging to display nutrition information will improve eating habits and help prevent the diet-related death of between 320 and 460 people a year. As of 20 December this year, nutritional information panels must be displayed on all packaged food.

The new legislation tightens up the use of 'lite' and 'light' as well as usage of 'no added salt/sugar' and 'unsweetened'.