There’s so much information on a food label that can sometimes be confusing but understanding food labels can be useful to help you to compare and choose products that best suit your needs. A food label will include the nutrition information panel, ingredients list, allergen statements and in some cases nutrition content and health claims. Let’s look at some of the main things to check.
Nutrition Information Panel
Legally, all nutrition information panels must include the energy content (kilojoules), protein, total fat, saturated fat, total carbohydrate, sugar and sodium (salt). Some labels will also contain other nutrients such as fibre or calcium, and these extra nutrients must be included if a health claim is made about them on the label.
“Per 100g” vs “per serve”
If you’re comparing two or more similar products look at the per 100g column as serving sizes between products can differ. If you’re wanting an idea of how much of a nutrient, for example how many kilojoules, you will actually consume if you chose the product, look at the ‘per serve’ column, however be mindful that the recommended serve size may not actually be the amount you choose to have.
When managing your weight, it’s useful to look for products that are lowest in energy or kilojoules per 100g.
Choose products with the lowest saturated fat content per 100g. Some foods will have naturally occurring saturated fat while others may have added sources. Look at the ingredient list to check for added sources.
Carbohydrate & sugars
The carbohydrate appears on a label as ‘total’ and ‘sugars’. It’s important to note that the ‘sugars’ can be made up of natural sugars and/or added sugars. To determine if a product has added sugars, look at the ingredients list for words that mean added sugar e.g. sugar, honey, fruit juice concentrate and any word ending in ‘ose’.
Ingredients are listed in order from largest to smallest by weight in the product. It’s useful to look at the ingredient list to get an idea of what has been added in large amounts and to check for sources of added sugar, saturated fat or sodium (salt).
Labels can have a number of nutrition claims such as ‘low fat’, ‘low salt’, ‘high fibre’ ‘gluten free’ that have to meet strict criteria to be able to make these claims. However, be wary of nutrition claims and marketing statements that can make a product seem healthier than it really is. Some examples are a product that is ‘low fat’ but high in sugar and total kilojoules or a product that states it is ‘light’ or ‘lite’ which can really mean anything from light in colour, taste or flavor.
While looking at the label of product can help you determine healthier choices, it’s important to always consider the product in the context of your whole diet. For example, just because a product has a little added sugar, it doesn’t mean it can’t be enjoyed as part of balanced healthy diet that is otherwise low in added sugar.