How to understand Food Labels

Reading Food Labels…Discover The Facts

Make smart choices about the foods you eat!


When you look at a food label you should be aware of three key elements:


1. Nutrition Claims

Food manufacturers place these on their products as they are eye-catching and entice you to select their product over another variety.


Remember, nutrition claims must be factual but they can be misleading!


“Lite/Light”: Does not always refer to fat content and can simply be a description of the colour, taste or texture. Eg. ‘Lite’ potato chips have the same quantity of fat as other chips, but they have less salt, or Lite olive oil refers to its colour and strength of flavour rather than its fat content.


“All Natural”: Usually this product has no added colourings, flavourings or preservatives. Don’t assume something natural is always healthy. Eg. Cream is all natural but only healthy in moderation.


“93% (or other %) Fat Free”: It is still 7% fat! Depending on the type of food and how much you eat it may or may not be a good choice. Eg. Cheese that is 90% fat free is a good choice as cheese contains 25-50% fat, however a dairy product that is 90% fat free is not a good choice as standard full cream milk is 96% fat free!


“Reduced Fat”: Indicates the fat content is 25% less than the original product though it may still be a high fat product. Eg, Reduced fat cheese may still contain as much as 25% fat! Remember that a “Low Fat” product must have less than 3g fat per 100g and “Fat Free” product must have less than 0.15g fat per 100g.


“Cholesterol Free”: Does not mean the product is low in fat, and note that cholesterol is only found in food that contains animal fats. Eg. Vegetable oils are cholesterol free but are 100% fat.


“Oven Baked, Not Fried”: If the product is brown and crunchy then it is likely that fat has been added before cooking.  These products may contain as much fat as the fried variety.  Always check the fat content of foods like biscuits and toasted muesli that commonly make this claim.


“Diet” or “Low Joule”: These products usually contain artificial sweeteners rather than sugar, which make them lower in energy (kilojoules) Eg. diet soft drink.


“High Fibre”: at least 3g fibre per 100g.


2. Ingredients List

These are listed in order from largest to smallest amount used (based on weight of ingredient) i.e. major ingredients are in the first three. You should be wary of products that contain fat or sugar at the top of the list. Key ingredients will be listed by % weight so you can compare similar products.

Be aware of alternate names for fat sugar and salt in the ingredients list:

Fat Sugar Salt
Vegetable oil Glucose or ending in -ose Sodium
Full cream milk powder Corn syrup Na
Copha Treacle MSG
Shortening Molasses Sea salt
Butterfat or buttermilk Sorbitol or ending in -tol Beef or yeast extracts
Milk solids Malt or malt extract  
Cocoa butter    



3. Nutrition Information Panel

Must list the amount of energy, protein, fat, saturated fat, carbohydrate, sugar and sodium in a product. Also, any nutrient mentioned as part of a nutrition claim is included. Eg. Fibre or cholesterol.


What do I look for?

  1. Look at total amount of energy and fat. If the energy is high while the fat content is low, assume the majority of energy is coming from carbohydrate or sugar.
  2. Identify what % of total carbohydrate (starch, fibre and sugar) comes from sugar. Look at the ingredients list to determine if it is mostly from added (usually in the form of sucrose) or naturally occurring (fructose from fruit or lactose from milk) sugars.
  3. Is my product a good choice in regards to nutrient targets?

i.    Use the 100g column for the easiest comparison between products, especially %fat.

ii.    Servings:  Check the number of servings in the pack. This 450g tub of yoghurt contains 3x150g serves.

iii.    Energy: Check the number of Kilojoules (kJ) per serve.  Remember that your serve and the suggested serve may not be the same!

iv.    Protein: Foods that contain protein help build and repair your body and keep you full for longer.

             v. Fat: If you are watching your weight chooses lower fat foods where possible and foods lower in saturated fat (aim for less than 3g per 100g).

vi.      Look for products with more total carbohydrate than sugars alone.  Check the ingredients list to see where the sugar is coming from.  Natural sugars from fruit and milk are acceptable in moderate amounts but look to minimise added sugar from other sources.

vii.    Fibre:  Look for high fibre in wholegrain bread and cereal products.  Aim for a total of 30g per day.


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