Food labels are broken into different sections. Here we explain how to read each section and how to avoid getting caught out by sneaky labelling tricks.
Nutrition information panel
The nutrition information panel provides information about the amount of energy, protein, fat, carbohydrates and sodium contained in a food. There are two columns in the nutrition information panel – the ‘per serve’ column and the ‘per 100g’ column. To compare two similar foods, ensure you are reading from the ‘per 100g’ column on each label to get a realistic comparison.
In Australia energy is listed in kilojoules. There are 4.2 kilojoules to a calorie, so if you are used to working in calories you can use a calculator to make the conversion.
All saturated fat must legally be included in the nutrition information panel. Saturated fat is especially bad for your health – it can increase your blood cholesterol levels, as well as putting you at risk of heart disease. Avoid foods high in saturated fat.
Sodium is another word for salt. Foods high in sodium are high in salt, so if you suffer from high blood pressure, it is best to avoid foods which have a lot of sodium.
All ingredients contained in a food must be included in the ingredients list. Foods are listed in order of weight – if sugar is in the top two or three ingredients, the food is going to be relatively high in sugar. Try to avoid foods with unhealthy ingredients high in the ingredients list.
Natural and synthetic food additives must all be identified on the packaging, no matter how small the amount used in the food. Food additives are listed by both their name and number, for example, ‘food acid (331)’.
Any ingredients known to cause a severe allergic reaction in some people must be declared on the label. Some common allergens are nuts, seafood, milk, eggs and soybeans. Many manufactures will also state that a food ‘may contain traces’ of an allergen, even if the allergen is not in the ingredients list, as the food has been made in a factory where the allergen is present.
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