Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Reading food labels

Reading nutrition labels
Knowing about what you eat is an important part of looking after your health and wellbeing. Food labels carry information about the food such as the nutrition panel, ingredient list, country of origin and advisory statements. Most manufactured foods need a label.

Understanding the Nutrition Information Panel
Nutrition information panels are displayed on the packaging of most food and drink. Some exceptions include foods in small packages, tea, coffee, alcohol, herbs and spices. Nutrition information is listed per serve as well as per 100g or 100mL.

Here is a great breakdown of what everything on your label means

Don’t be misled by labelling tricks and traps. The terms used are often misleading.
Below are some examples:
The term ‘light’ or ‘lite’ doesn’t necessarily mean that the product is low in fat or energy. The term ‘light’ may refer to the texture, colour or taste of the product. The characteristic that makes the food ‘light’ must be stated on the label.
The claims ‘no cholesterol’, ‘low cholesterol’ or ‘cholesterol free’ on foods derived from plants, like margarine and oil, are meaningless because all plant foods contain virtually no cholesterol. However, some can be high in fat and can contribute to weight gain if used too generously.

‘Baked not fried’ sounds healthier, but it may still have just as much fat – check the nutrition information panel to be sure.

What to look for on your labels

Use-by dateThis is found on perishable items, such as dairy products, which will go off after the printed date.
Best beforeNot to be confused with "use by", "best before" is on all goods. A product will not go off after the best before date but its quality may be impaired.
Country of originBuy Australian. From an environmental viewpoint an Australian product is a better choice. It supports our economy and uses less fossil fuel in transportation.
Ingredient listThis is often the most revealing — listing ingredients in their order of dominance, you can see at a glance whether it's something to be avoided. If the product contains lots of things with names and numbers you don't understand it may not be bad, but if you don't have time to analyse it properly, put it back. If the product does contain numbers you don't understand, check the additive box below to see which ones should be avoided.

Nutritional panel

Per serve If you know which brand you want, look at the "per serve" information, but first check whether the serving size is realistic — in many cases what the manufacturer says is a serve is unrealistically small.
Per 100g Use this to compare products — try to buy the products with the least fat, sugar or salt.
Energy Consider when you're going to eat the food and use the energy per serve guide as a benchmark to see how much of your meal intake will be made up of the food product.

Energy guide:
Main meals: 1200-2400kJ
Snacks: 300-500kJ
Fat If the saturated fat is over one third of the total fat content then you should use it sparingly or find a healthier alternative.

Total fat guide per 100g:
20g — high
10g — okay
2g — good

Consider how much you will realistically eat. For example, a low-fat cheese has a fat content of 22g per 100g but the average serve size is 30g. Cheese is an excellent source of calcium and is a worthwhile inclusion to a healthy diet.
Sugar As with the fat guide, first check the 100g information and then consider how much you will eat.

Sugar guide per 100g:
15g — high
10g — okay
3g — good
Fibre Processed food is typically low in fibre, therefore there is some benefit to buying products listed as "high fibre" only when the product is not overly high in saturated fat, sugar and salt.

The adequate intake of daily fibre is 25g.

Fibre guide per serve:
Over 3g — good
0.5g — low
SodiumThis is one area that's very much worth checking out as salt (or sodium) is in so many things not immediately apparent in the ingredient list.

Check the sodium content per 100g before considering what your typical serve would be.

Sodium guide per 100g:
High sodium — 600mg
Low sodium — 20mg



  1. Nice post Dominique! as a personal trainer myself I find that my clients are consistently eating garbage and cannot read the labels. I should send them here to make it easier!

  2. thank you so much for this post, i'm going through all your old blog posts for nutrition and fitness advice :)