Understanding food labels.
Making informed choices for you and your family can be somewhat confusing in this world of information overload. Even taking a trip to the supermarket and trying to find which one is the best yoghurt to choose, or the best breakfast cereal, or the best juice – all this can be quite overwhelming when you are trying to compare the plethora of information that is given to us on the packet! Knowing what information to look for can help make the choice easier, so you know what you are buying is the best option for you and your family’s health.
In Australia, food manufacturers must meet strict requirements on their labels that include information for people with food allergies, food additive listings, and food storage instructions. A detailed breakdown of what manufacturers must include on their labels can be found at this link here.
When it comes to choosing the healthy option the main thing to look for is the nutrition information panel (NIP). The NIP can be used to compare different branded products so you can make an informed decision about the product that is right for you. You can choose foods with less saturated fat, salt (sodium), added sugars and kilojoules, and more fibre. If comparing nutrients in similar food products use the per 100g column. If calculating how much of a nutrient, or how many kilojoules you will actually eat, use the per serve column. But check whether your portion size is the same as the serve size.
Check how many kJ per serve. Beware of foods that look like a single serve, but actually contain several servings in one packet. Once we know the kilojoules in a serve, we can weigh up whether our enjoyment warrants the extra kilojoules.
Fat is usually broken down into 2 parts: Total fat and saturated fat. With total fat generally choose foods with less than 10g per 100g. For milk, yogurt and ice cream, choose less than 2g per 100g. For cheese, choose less than 15g per 100g. With saturated fat aim for the lowest, per 100g. Less than 3g per 100g is best.
Avoiding sugar completely is not necessary, but try to avoid larger amounts of added sugars. If sugar content per 100g is more than 15g, check that sugar is not listed high on the ingredient list.
Not all labels include fibre. Choose breads and cereals with 3g or more per serve
Choose lower sodium options among similar foods. Food with less than 400mg per 100g are good, and less than 120mg per 100g is best.
All ingredients in a food product must be listed on the label in order from largest to smallest by weight. You can use this to identify foods that might be high in saturated fat, added salt or added sugars because these ingredients will usually appear in the top three ingredients.