A guide to food labels – understanding nutrition

Nutrition labels can be confusing and misleading. To eat well and get the right amount of nutrients in your diet, it’s a great idea to read nutritional information labels, so that you can be sure what you and your family are consuming. A wholesome diet involves a variety of foods including fruits, vegetables, legumes, breads and cereals. All manufactured foods for sale in supermarkets must include a food label containing nutritional information.

Reading the label will make sure you get the whole story about what is included in a product. Some foods have labels with nutrition claims, such as ‘low in fat’, ‘high in fibre’ or ‘90% sugar free’. These figures can be misleading, and the food may not be as nutritional as it is seems.

Here are our tips to cut through the nutritional jargon, helping you to read a food label with confidence and make informed nutritional decisions for you and your family.

Tips for understanding nutritional food labels

Check the ingredient list

Packaged foods will always have their ingredients listed in descending order of their weight within the product. For example, Nutella lists ‘Sugar’ as the first ingredient followed by ‘Modified Palm Oil’. This is a good way to see what the major ingredients in a product are, so you can see straight away if a food has a high content of sugar or salt.

Monitor your daily intake %

This is included on some products to show how much a product provides per serving for the recommended daily intake of nutritional elements. For example, a serving of pitted dates may provide you with 6% of your daily fibre. This can help maintain a balanced diet, ensuring you don’t take on too much of a certain nutrient, most relevant to your daily sodium intake.

Understand the nutritional information panel

Nutritional information Panel is a necessary addition to packaging for foods to show the nutritional value of a product. By law in Australia, as well as the number of servings per package contains, a nutritional information panel must include the following elements as per Eat for Health:

  • Energy
  • Protein
  • Total Fat
  • Saturated Fat
  • Carbohydrates
  • Sugars
  • Sodium
  • Dietary Fibre

The information must also include the nutrients for both per serve and per 100g. This information is usually displayed as a grid and will include the weight of the element in grams or milligrams. This section is essential to make sure a product does not have too much salt, sugar or fat. A healthier food will have less than 450mg of sodium per 100g. A low fat product will have less than a total of 5g per 100g, and less than half of the total fat will be saturated.

Check for ingredients that can cause allergic reactions

If you are sensitive to some ingredients, make sure you check the label for anything that may cause an allergic reaction. Each product should include any additions in a product that may cause an allergy to some people. This may include traces of nuts, eggs, dairy, wheat or other common allergy causing additives.

Learn about food additives

Food additives are often added to food to keep products fresh and able to be stored for later use. These additives are listed in the ingredients and may be listed by name or number. To help you understand what food additives mean and for a full list of additives visit foodstandards.gov.au.

Understanding the nutritional values of processed food will help you to make informed decisions on what you choose to eat and have a positive effect on your health and maybe even your wallet! Real Life Insurance understands you want to take care of yourself and your family, and those who are in good health will generally pay less for their life insurance, than those with health issues. With ever more emphasis placed on health and fitness it’s important to understand how a good diet can affect your overall wellbeing and longevity. This is important not only for young children and teenagers but also for adults.