Food labels can make it easier for you to make healthy choices – if you know what you are looking for.
Food labels contain a lot of important information for shoppers. They inform us about the key ingredients in a food, the date it should be consumed by, whether the food contains any known allergens and how the food should be stored.
Food labels are particularly important for people with health conditions who may have specific nutritional requirements such as those with allergies, coeliac disease, diabetes, hypertension and heart disease.
What’s in a label?
All food labels in Australia must comply with the Food Standards Code (implemented by Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ)) and include the following:
Ingredients are listed in order of weight. The ingredient that weights the most is listed first and the smallest last. So if sugar, fat or salt is listed near the beginning of the ingredient list, it is likely the product contains a large quantity of this ingredient.
Nutrition panels provide information on specific nutrients and allow you to make comparisons between similar foods. The nutrients listed include energy (in kilojoules), fat (broken into saturated fat, trans fat, polyunsaturated fat and monounsaturated fat), total carbohydrate (broken into sugars and starch) and sodium (salt).
Information is given per 100g and per serve or portion. Be cautious when comparing products that provide information using serving size, as the manufacturer decides the serving sizes, which can vary widely between brands. You should always compare products using the 100g panel first, then consider how much you actually eat.
What to look for:
Not all fats are bad; however we do need to keep the intake of some types of fat reasonably low. Avoid saturated and trans fats, and aim for polyunsaturated or monounsaturated fats that include the important omega 3 fatty acids.
- 1 tsp of fat is approximately 5g, so if a label says 25g fat per serve, that is equal to about 5 tsp per serve
- low-fat products that are labelled light, lite, or fat free, are often high in sugar. Fat can be disguised in ingredient lists as animal fat, vegetable oil, coconut, copha, cream, diglycerides, monoglycerides, lard, mayonnaise, milk solids, palm oil, shortening or tallow
- Healthier options have less than 5g total fat per 100g (or 5-10g total fat per 100g if saturated fat is less than 1/2 total fat).
Total carbohydrate value includes both sugar and starch. The total sugar value comes from both natural and added sugar. Products such as milk, yoghurt or fruit are naturally higher in sugar but are still healthy (just watch out for added sugar).
- 5g sugar is equal to 1 tsp. If the label indicates 25g of sugar per serve then that is equal to 5 tsp of sugar per serve
- sugar may be listed as malt, malt extract, maltose, maltodextrines, dextrose, glucose, glucose syrup, raw sugar, fruit juice or fructose
- per 100g of food product, 15g of added sugar or more is a lot, 2g or less is a little
Salt is found naturally in some foods and many people add salt to their food however, the majority of our salt intake comes from processed foods.
- table salt, salt flakes, rock salt and sea salt are all equally high in sodium.
- per 100g of food product, 500mg of sodium (salt) or more is a lot, 120mg or less is a little
To increase your fibre intake, choose foods that are high in fibre; preferably wholegrain.
- in high fibre products, the ingredient list will contain words such as wholegrain, wheat or wholemeal flour, whole oats or bran
- ‘high fibre’ means the food must contain at least 3g of fibre per serve
- per 100g of food product, 10g of fibre or more is a lot, 2 g or less is a little
For more information about food labelling, see www.fsanz.com
Published with the permission of Jean Hailes for Women’s Health