Nutrition Nook: how to understand food labels when you shop

Food labels on products give us useful information to make healthy choices about what we eat and why we should choose one product over another. Food labels can tell us a lot about the product including its country of origin, nutritional claims, allergens and weights of food products.

Being able to understand food labels also means that we are able to choose products that have better health outcomes for us; such as choosing products that are lower in sodium, saturated fat and sugar.

We have listed our top tips to guide you on reading food labels to make more informed choices on your purchase choices:

Don’t Rely on nutrition claims

  • Lots of health claims and product-catching labels such as ‘organic’ or ‘vegan’ are unregulated.
  • Watch out for products that say ‘lite’ or ‘light’, this isn’t necessarily referring to the fat content, it may refer to the colour, taste or texture
  • ‘Baked not fried’ sounds healthier, but still can contain the same amount of fat – check and compare nutrition labels.

Understand a Nutritional Information Panel

  • Use the per 100g column to compare nutrients in similar food products to see which one is the better option.
  • Total Fat – choose food products with less than 10g of total fat per 100g.
  • Saturated Fat – aim for the lowest when comparing similar food products – 3g per 100g is a healthier choice.
  • Fibre – labels will only include fibre if they have made a health claim that the product is ‘high in fibre’. Choose products with 3g or more per serving if you are after a high-fibre product.
  • Sugars – try to avoid sugar content that is more than 15g or per 100g as the RDI for adults is 50g per day and that includes natural sugars in fruits, veg, milk etc.
  • Sodium (Salt) – Compare similar products per 100g. A product with less than 120mg per 100g is the best, whilst less than 400mg per 100g is good as long as you are not consuming other high-sodium foods that day.

Check the Ingredients List

  • The ingredients list is a simple place to start to understand if the product uses whole foods or processed foods.
  • Packaged foods show the percentage of the main ingredient included in the food product, which can be useful in comparing products. For example, a product that advertises its peanut butter as 100% natural and only made from peanuts, should have its ingredients listed as; Peanuts (100%).

Health Star Rating System

  • Compares similar products based on the nutrition content of products per 100g from 1 -5 stars.
  • The more stars the healthier that option is compared to other similar products.
  • Look out for these stars on product labels to help you compare different types of brands with similar products.

Reference: Better Health