How to read a nutrition label
Updated: Jan 28, 2019
Nutrition food labels tend to be extremely confusing and tricky to understand. We rarely have the time to stand in the food aisle and closely look over every label trying to work out what it means. There are a few quick tips that can help make your healthy shopping journey a lot easier and quicker. Knowing what information to look for is essential to pick the most nutritious foods for your health. The nutrition information panel is the easiest place to look in order to choose foods that contain less saturated fats, salt and refined sugars.
Nutrition Information Panel
Starting from top to bottom, I’ll explain what this confusing colourful image means and how you can use this to your advantage.
Servings per package
The servings per package number, for example, 16, indicates how many servings the package contains.
The ‘servings size’ is the amount of food product such as cups, pieces or grams that’s considered 1 portion or 1 serve. The following information is based on that serve.
These 2 are the first confusing part of a nutrition label because we can look straight towards the energy column and think that a packet of chips only has 432kj (100 calories) in them. However, that’s based on a serve and in reality, if you eat the whole packet you’ll consume 1600 calories (16 x 100), a significant difference.
Energy is the section of the nutrition panel that gives the food product a number measurement. This is also where you can work out how many calories are in a food. I’m pretty sure we all know how I feel about calories, they don’t determine how nutritious a food is. However, it’s a part of every label and can assist in determining, along with other information, on whether or not that option is the healthiest for you. To determine the calories in a product you divide the energy 432kj by 4.18.
The panel states there’s 2.8g of protein per serve (30g or 2/3 cup). This means if you consume 2 serves or 60g you’ll consume 5.6g protein.
This section tells you how much total fat is in 1 serve of the food. A great rule of thumb is to choose foods that contain no more than 10g of total fat per 100g. You can find this by looking under the ‘per 100g’ column. Saturated fat is important as we shouldn’t be consuming more than 10g per day. Alternatively, you can look at it as less than 3g per 100g.
This shows the total amount of carbohydrates in 1 serving. However, there are 2 types of carbohydrates listed, total carbohydrates and sugars. If the sugar content is more than 15g per 100g, check there are no added sugars on the ingredients list such as:
dextrose, fructose, glucose, golden syrup, honey, maple syrup, sucrose, malt, maltose, lactose, brown sugar, caster sugar, maple syrup, raw sugar, sucrose.
Fibre is sometimes included under the carbohydrates section, yet in this case, it’s listed as its own section. Many labels may not include dietary fibre either. When it’s listed, choose products that contain 3g or more per serve. Including more dietary fibre in the diet has an abundance of health benefits and many of us don’t consume enough fibre throughout the day.
Sodium is also known as salt, and when our intake of this is too high we’re at risk for diseases such as heart disease, cancers and high blood pressure. Choose foods with less than 400mg per 100g and less than 120mg per 100g is best!
This section is my favourite because it’s simple if you don’t understand or recognise an item in this list… it’s probably not something you should be consuming. This doesn’t mean if it’s a vegetable and you don’t like it suddenly the products off limits! The ingredients list is a great way to see whether that strawberry yoghurt really contains strawberries or a number of products that make up a strawberry-flavour.
There are two Australian favs I grew up with, Weet-Bix and Sultana Bran. My weet-bix was definitely an everyday breakfast smothered in honey and milk until they were the right consistency. I thought it’d be a great idea to compare the two labels of these products, which are considered heatlhy amongst the general public.
Both these products state a serving size is around 30-35g so we’ll be looking under the ‘per serve’ column for reference. The Weet-bix contain 105 calories per serve (2 biscuits) and the Sultana Bran Buds contain 120 calories per serve (3/4 Cup). It’s clear when comparing the two serves, the weet-bix provides more protein than the buds. Both contain only 0.1g of saturated fat per serve and less than 1g of total fat per serve. The big area they differ is under the carbohydrates section. Although both contain around 20-23g of carbohydrates, the Sultana Bran Buds contain 8.3g of sugars per serving compared to the 0.8g of sugars found in 2 weet-bix. Personally, I would choose the weet-bix in terms of nutritional value over the sultana bran buds particularly due to the significant difference in added sugars and ingredients.
I hope this clears up the confusing panels a little for you.
Please feel free to email me any questions you have or you’d like written about and i’ll do my best to get to them ASAP.