Reading Food Labels

Introduction

Eating well involves choosing a variety of foods which are low in saturated fat and salt, plus foods which are high in fibre such as wholegrain bread and cereals, legumes, fruits and vegetables. There are many foods which fit this description, but finding them on the supermarket shelves can often be difficult. However, there is a way.
 

All food manufacturers must include certain details on labels, such as ingredients and food additives, ‘use-by’ date, name of manufacturer and the country in which it was made. Look for the Ingredient List and the Nutrition Information Panel to help you to make healthy choices. 

In this Section 

 

 

 

Download the Information Sheet : Reading Food Labels

Learn how to read food labels!

The labels on all packaged foods must contain the following information. By reading these labels, you will be able to judge where the food fits into your eating pattern:
  • Name of the food.
  • Name and business address of the manufacturer or importer.
  • Name of the country the food came from.
  • A list of ingredients
  • The percentage of the key or ‘characterising’ ingredient of the food.
  • Warnings about the presence of major allergens, no matter how small the amount.
  • Nutrition Information Panel.
  • A ‘use-by’ date (ie: if a food must be consumed before a certain date for health and safety reasons) or ‘best before’ date (ie: if the shelf life is less than two years).

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The Ingredient List

All packaged foods must have an ingredient list on their labels. All ingredients are listed in descending order by weight (ie: the ingredient that weighs the most is listed first and the ingredient that weighs the least is listed last). This allows you to work out roughly how much of the ingredient the food contains, which can help you decide whether or not you want to buy the food.

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Percentage labelling

Some packaged foods show the percentage of the key ingredients or components in the food product. For example in strawberry yoghurt, strawberries are a key ingredient, so the percentage of strawberries is indicated. In some cases, such as plain milk or bread, there are no key or ‘characterising’ ingredients.

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Percentage (%) daily intake

Some manufacturers may choose to include information about the contribution of a serving of their product to your total daily nutrient intake (eg: 1 slice provides 12% of your daily fibre needs). This is known as ‘% daily intake’. Use this as a guide only as your daily intake may be higher or lower depending on your energy needs.

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Nutrition claims

To attract the shopper’s attention, food manufacturers may make a nutrition claim on their packaging such as ‘low fat’, ‘high fibre’ or ‘reduced salt’. Rather than relying on these claims to make a choice, refer to the Nutrition Information Panel to assess whether the product is a healthy option. 

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The Nutrition Information panel

Most packaged foods must have a Nutrition Information Panel. Exceptions include small packages and foods like herbs and spices, tea, coffee as well as foods sold unpackaged or made and packaged at the point of sale. Nutrition Information Panels provide information on:

  • Energy (kilojoules/calories)
  • Protein
  • Total fat and saturated fat
  • Total carbohydrate and sugars (including ‘added sugar’ and sugar that is present naturally)
  • Sodium
  • Dietary fibre (only appears if a claim is made about the fibre or sugar content of the food, eg: 'high fibre' or 'low sugar').

The Nutrition Information panel provides very useful information that can be used to decide whether a food is suitable for someone with diabetes and for choosing the better option from a range of similar products.

Refer to the sample Nutrition Information panel plus an explanation about how it can help you to make better choices.

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How to find healthy foods when shopping

Most of us make up our mind about which foods we are going to buy when we’re in the supermarket. To decide if a food is a healthy choice, ask:

  • Is the food lower in fat, especially saturated fat?

Tip: 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.

  • Is the food lower in salt (sodium)?

Tip: Healthier options have less than 450mg sodium per 100g. Low sodium foods have less than 120mg sodium per 100g.

  • Is the food high in fibre?

 

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Keep an eye out for the Glycemic Index Tested Symbol

To help people identify healthy low GI foods while shopping, the University of Sydney, Diabetes Australia and the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation joined forces to develop the easily identifiable GI Symbol. The Symbol indicates that a food has had its GI measured using the Australian Standard to ensure its accuracy, and that it meets strict nutrient criteria, consistent with Australia’s Dietary Guidelines ie: be low in saturated fat, moderate in sodium and where appropriate a source of dietary fibre. They must also contain at least 10 grams of carbohydrate per serve. Check for the word ‘low’ near the GI Symbol for low GI foods.

A broad selection of foods and beverages with the Symbol* are available in your local supermarket.

* It is not mandatory for food companies to put the GI rating on food labels.

 

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