How To Read Nutrition Labels, Australia
Reading food labels on packaged foods is key to understanding what you are putting into your body, but with all the information that food manufacturers pack onto the nutrition information panel, it's hard to know what's what and what it's telling you!
We've done a bit of research and tried to find out as much as possible about reading a nutrition facts label to ensure you can work out what is going on. Take a look below and become an expert on food labels in no time.
What are food labels on packaged foods?
Before we get into the nitty-gritty, we need to define what food labels actually are. A food label basically carries all of the information about the food contained inside. It covers a range of things, including ingredients, information for those with food allergies, and any nutrition claims.
What information should be on a food label?
There are a number of pieces of nutritional information that food labels must contain. Below, we're rounded up a few of the key headings.
This one seems obvious, but food labels need to contain a list of ingredients. Ingredients are listed in descending order of weight, meaning the first ingredient listed contributes the most.
The next thing listed on food labels is the nutritional information. When people look at food labels, they are usually checking the nutritional information to ensure that they're making the right choices for a healthy diet.
The nutritional information pertains to the macronutrients in the packaged food, including protein, fat and saturated fat, carbohydrates, and sugars. Below, we've summarised what the information on each of these macronutrients means.
Listed as kilojoules (kJ), energy refers to the amount of energy this food can provide. Protein, carbs, and fat all provide the body with this energy. Lower energy foods tend to have lower fat or sugar and might be the healthier option.
Protein is essential to the body. It helps the body make and repair cells and can help with growth. Protein is usually measured in grams on nutrition labels.
As an essential to the body, we believe in finding the best ways to naturally supplement your protein levels. Check out our fantastic protein range and find great products like this Raw Organic Protein Isolate from Amazonia.
Fat will be listed in the ingredients in a range of ways, including:
- Beef fat
- Coconut oil
- Palm oil
These are just a few examples of all the ways fat can be represented on an ingredients label. Fat is higher in kilojoules than other macros and so you should limit your intake.
Saturated fat, or bad fat, is known to increase the risk of a range of cardiovascular diseases and increase cholesterol levels in the blood.
Saturated fat is high in energy-dense foods, like takeaways, but can also be found in many health food products too. You should aim to choose food low in saturated fats.
Coconut oil is high in saturated fats, in fact, it has more saturated fat than beef fat and lard, but it is found in many health food products. Though there is some speculation that the saturated fats in coconut oil are better for you, more research is needed.
There is a range of oils you can use instead of coconut oil. Some great choices for substitutes are olive oil, like this Every Bit Organic Raw Olive Oil, sunflower oil, like this Plenty Cold Press Sunflower Oil, and avocado oil, like this Melrose Organic Unrefined Avocado Oil.
Your body needs carbohydrates to be able to make energy. Carbs are found in everything from fruit and veg to bread and grains to sugary foods.
Sugar will be listed on ingredients lists in a variety of ways, including brown sugar, corn syrup, fructose, honey, fruit juice, and anything that ends in -ose or -tol.
Sugar can cause lots of problems in the body if consumed in too high an amount. Sugar alternatives are a good way of reducing your sugar intake.
Sodium will be listed in a range of ways. This can include baking soda, celery salt, yeast extract, and MSG. Some people may be on low sodium diets which means taking note of sodium levels in food is essential.
For those on low sodium diets, we offer a range of options including A Vogel's Low Salt Herbamare which adds flavour to your food without adding more salt.
Another essential macro, fibre content is an important number to look out for. Fibre helps the digestive system work properly and needs to be consumed daily.
Things to look out for
As well as nutrition facts, there are other things that will appear on a nutrition label. Below we've summarised a few key things to look out for.
Use by dates
Use by, best by, baked-on... These all mean different things and knowing the difference will help you to reduce your food waste, and maybe stop you from eating low-quality food!
The 'use by' date on packaging tells you when the product will go off. The 'best before' date tells you when your product will start to lose quality, though not necessarily 'off' the product will no longer be at its best.
'Baked on' or 'packed on' is essentially telling you how fresh the item is. This is usually found on fresh foods packaging.
Another key piece of information on food labels is the storage instructions. These will ensure you store your item correctly and that you don't waste food due to incorrect storage. It may also inform you of how long your item can be stored once opened.
It's best to check this information to ensure correct storage and to ensure you don't eat the item after it may have gone bad.
Allergy information is really key on packaged food labels. This is because a small number of foods cause more than 90% of allergies. All allergens legally have to be listed on a food label, even if they are in tiny quantities.
As well as allergens, some food labels may also have a 'May contain...' warning. This usually means that the item has been manufactured or packaged in an environment with these allergens. This warning is usually meant for those with severe allergies.
Nutrition and health claims
Food labels and packaged foods are usually full of claims like 'A good source of calcium,' or 'Low fat,' but these claims, legally, have to be backed up or certified.
Understanding these nutrition claims can help you to choose the right products for you and your family. Below we've listed and explained a few common health claims found on packaged foods.
- 'Cholesterol free' products can still contain fat
- 'Fat-free' products must contain less than 0.15% fat
- 'Light' or 'lite' doesn't have to refer to fat content, in fact, it may refer to colour. Always check the nutritional information on the food label to ensure that it is lower in fat
- Anything that claims to be 'organic' should contain some kind of certification. In Australia, ACO certifies products organic, as well as other bodies
- 'Oven baked' though meant to suggest the product is healthy will likely still have oil or fat content. Check the ingredients to find out how much fat it contains
- 'Reduced salt' and 'reduced fat' both have to have less than 25% salt or fat
- 'Sugar-free' needs to be free from sucrose, or table sugar, but not any other kind of sugar
There are plenty of other health claims to be found on food labels. You can check these health claims easily by comparing what it says to the ingredients and nutritional information.
Additives in foods are very common and can constitute preservatives, flavourings, colourings, emulsifiers, and sweeteners. Most additives will be listed in the ingredients but there are instances when they are not.
For example, if an additive is less than 5% of a compound and it doesn't affect the overall look, flavour, or texture of the final product, it will not be listed.
Additives are usually followed by their chemical name, in brackets, after the ingredient name. Any additives that contain allergens must also be highlighted.
Health star rating
Some products contain a 'health star rating.' This rating is calculated according to ingredients that increase the risk of obesity and chronic illnesses. More stars mean the product is better for you.
Percentage daily intake
Percentage daily intake compares how many nutrients are in one serving of the food compared with how much an average adult should be consuming. It is a rough guide of what you should be eating.
Nutrition food labels are full of really useful information about what you are consuming. Learning how to read them can help you to make good food choices and help you to boost your overall health.
Understanding labels will also help you to avoid falling for any health claims that the packaging advertises and help you better understand the food you are eating.
Frequently asked questions
What are the four steps to reading a nutrition label?
To begin with, you should always note the serving size on a food label. This can help determine you're eating the correct amount for what the nutrition information states. You should then check out the total calories and the macronutrient information to ensure the product has good quantities where it matters. Finally, you should check for allergens and additives.
How do you read a nutrition label for dummies?
Understanding how nutrition information labels work is essential to understanding the food you're consuming. Nutrition labels contain a lot of information, including the ingredients in the product and nutritional information. Understanding the nutritional information can help you to eat products that are good for you, for instance, staying away from products with high levels of saturated fats will be good for your health in the long run.
What are the five main things to notice on a nutritional label?
Nutritional food labels have lots and lots of information. The key things you should be looking for are:
- Nutrition information, including macronutrient quantities
- Allergens and 'may contain' warnings
- Any additives or added sugars
- Storage instructions and best before dates
How do I calculate nutritional information?
Generally, nutritional values have been already been calculated on food labels. Percentage intake values are also really helpful to understanding the nutritional values of each food item. These figures can help you to understand how the food you're eating fits within the necessary nutrients needed each day.