The art of reading food labels

Many foods we buy regularly have “nutrition claims” on the package. It is always best to read a nutrition panel and decide for yourself whether a food is a good choice rather than relying on nutrition claims.

The following are examples of nutrition claims and what they really mean.

‘All natural’

  • Usually means there are no artificial colours, flavours of preservatives
  • It does not mean it is the best choice as the product may still be high in fat, sugar and/or salt

‘Light or lite’

  • Does not necessarily mean less fat or kilojoules
  • Can mean light in flavour, texture or colour
  • Best to look at the nutrition panel for total fat

‘No cholesterol’ or ‘cholesterol free’

  • Does not mean low in fat
  • Does not mean low in saturated fat
  • Best to look at the total saturated fat in the nutrition panel to determine if a food is good for cholesterol

‘Reduced fat’

  • Indicates that the food contains less fat than standard products
  • Does not mean it is low fat
  • Usually there is a 25-35% fat reduction. Compare fat content of foods using the nutrition information panel

‘No added sugar’

  • The product contains no added sugar but may contain plenty of naturally occurring sugar
  • Example, many fruit juices have no added sugar but contain high amounts of natural fruit sugar which can still affect nutrition

‘Low joule’ or ‘diet’

  • These claims describe foods which are lower in kilojoules than a similar product
  • Usually contain artificial sweeteners

‘97% fat free’

  • Must contain less than 3g of fat per 100g
  • Considered as low fat
  • Still consider the sugar and sodium content of these foods

‘Heart Foundation tick’

  • This product meets the nutrition criteria set by the heart foundation
  • Does not mean it is healthier than other brands
  • Compare nutrition panels to make sure you are making the healthiest choice

‘Low GI’

  • This product has been tested for its effect on blood glucose (sugar) levels
  • Does not mean that it is healthier than other brands
  • Does not mean the food is low in added sugar
  • Compare nutrition panels to make sure you are making the healthiest choice

 Understanding the Nutrition Label
The numbers on the nutritional information label and tell you important information about your food and help you make the best choice for you. Here's what to look for:

Fat: 

  • Less than 10g per 100g is a good choice
  • Less than 3g per 100g is an excellent choice - this means it is Low Fat

Fat – saturated:

  • Will increase cholesterol
  • Less than 3g per 100g

Fat – trans:

  • Will increase cholesterol
  • Is not mandatory to be included on product      
  • Less than 1g per 100g

Carbohydrate:

  • Total carbohydrate includes sugars and starches.

Sugar:

  • Sugars include both naturally occurring and added sugar.
  • Naturally occurring sugar such as dried fruit is a better choice than added sugar
  • Less than 10-15g per 100g is a good choice
  • (allow Less than 20g per 100g if contains fruit)
  • Less than 2g per 100g is an excellent choice

Dietary fibre: 

  • Look for the most fibre per serve
  • Aim for greater than 3g per serve

Sodium:

  • Also known as salt, raises high blood pressure
  • Less than 400mg per 100g is a good choice 
  • Less than 120mg per 100g is an excellent choice

Ingredient list:

  • Ingredients must be listed from the highest to the lowest content.
  • Percentages of key ingredients must be stated.

Reproduced from Arthritis and Osteoporosis Western Australia