Reading Food Labels

Ideally, our diets should mostly consist of fresh whole foods, but there are times that packaged foods are quicker or easier and it is very difficult to completely eliminate them from our diets. Food labels provide us with information to help us decide if a food or drink is suitable to consume or not. 

To start with, reading food labels will make your supermarket trip longer. Pick a time of day that the supermarket is at its emptiest so that you don’t feel pressured to move through isles faster than you want to. The better you get at reading and understanding the food labels, the quicker your shopping trips will be. 

Check the labels of the food you have at home before going to the supermarket, or choose a couple of types of food to
investigate at a time. Information on labels can be small and difficult to read, so make sure you take your glasses if needed.

All food packages are legally required to have a nutrition information panel (NIP) and a list of ingredients. These are not always on the same section of the label. Labels may also include nutritional claims, such as the healthy star ratings.

The food label, or Nutrition Information Panel, is required to provide nutrient content per serve and per 100g. 

Specific nutrient information provided includes:

  • Energy content (in kilojoules and sometimes calories)
  • Protein content
  • Fat and saturated fat content
  • Total carbohydrate
  • Sugar content
  • Sodium (salt) content
  • Any nutrient about which a claim has been made, such as “good source of calcium” requires calcium
    included in the NIP
  • Some products also provide information on the fibre content but are not legally required to do this. 
  • Some foods provide nutrient information on different serving presentations such as breakfast cereals served
    with milk

What Do Health Stars Mean?

Health Stars are a labelling system designed to identify healthier choices within broad food categories. The stars usually appear prominently on the front of the food packaging of most foods. The star rating is calculated by considering a number of positive and negative nutrients for a particular food. The positive elements include protein, fibre, fruit, vegetable, nut, seed and legume content. The negative elements include energy, sodium, saturated fat, and sugar. When comparing packaged foods within a food category, choose the product with the most stars.

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