How to understand food labels

It is important that you understand the nutritional value of the food that you are eating. This is why there are general labeling and information requirements for most of the packaged foods sold at the supermarkets. Some examples include; muesli bars, cereals, and dairy products.

How to read a food label

Don’t rely on what looks healthy or the bolded health claims such as “gluten free” and “source of fibre”. Instead, look at the food package labels to learn more about what is really inside the food you eat.

3 important food package labels:

  1. Nutritional information panel: Provides information on the average amount of energy (in kilojoules or both in kilojoules and calories), protein, fat, saturated fat, carbohydrate, sugars and sodium in the food, as well as any other claim that requires nutrition information.

  2. Ingredients list: This tells you what the product is made up of. Ingredients are listed in descending order by the original weight of the ingredient before processing or cooking.

  3. Allergen warnings: This tells you what known allergens, such as peanuts, tree nuts, milk, eggs, sesame seeds, fish, shellfish, soy, lupin and wheat, are present in the food.

Look out for information on:

  • Energy: A kilojoule is a measure of energy. To lose weight, you need to eat and drink fewer kilojoules than you use.

  • Fat: There are different types of fats. Saturated fats are linked to an increased risk of heart disease and high blood cholesterol, so it is especially important to choose foods low in saturated fat. When eating fat, you should be looking for healthy fats. These are mostly unsaturated fats.

  • Carbohydrate: Carbohydrates are found in all fruit and vegetables, all breads and grain products, and sugar and sugary foods. You need carbohydrates for energy.

  • Sugar: Sugar is a type of carbohydrate. It is better to choose healthier carbohydrates and to limit foods that are high in added sugars.

  • Fibre: High fibre foods such as wholegrain bread and cereals improve digestion and help you to feel full.

  • Sodium: This tells you how much salt the product contains. Eating too much salt is linked to high blood pressure and can lead to heart disease, strokes and kidney disease.

Example of a food label

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Use the food labels to choose foods which have less saturated fat, added sugar and sodium in them. Generally speaking, healthier options have less than:

  • 15g of sugar per 100g.

  • 3g of saturated fat per 100g.

  • 400mg of sodium (salt) per 100g.

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Sources:

www.foodstandards.gov.au (Nutrition information panels, ingredient lists and percentage labelling, allergen labelling)

www.eatforhealth.gov.au (How to Understand Food Labels)

www.healthdirect.gov.au/ (How to read food labels)