Food labels – become a savvy shopper

Reading labels on packed foods can be a time consuming and confusing task. But it doesn’t have to be, especially if you know what to look for. The simple tips in this article will help you to become a savvy food shopper. Firstly, keep in mind that it is best to choose mostly foods that do not need a packet or are minimally changed when they go into a packet. An example of this could be fresh or frozen vegetables, which are a nutrition powerhouse!

Many people consume packaged foods. These can make up part of a healthy diet, or they can be an undesirable choice. It all depends on what the packaged food is, how much you consume and how often you eat it. So if you chose to read labels, what should you look out for (and ignore)?

1. The ingredient list. Ingredients are listed based on weight – the first ingredient contributes the most. Take a look at the first 3 ingredients. If fat, sugar or salt is listed, it makes up a large amount of that product. This may not be the best choice. Either limit the amounts consumed or find a healthier alternative 

2. Marketing claims. These can be misleading or misinterpreted. The claim ‘lite or light’ could be referring to the energy (calorie/kilojoule) content. But it could also simply be a description for the color of the food. Do not rely on marketing claims alone to make a healthy choice, for example ‘light’ olive oil may be referring to its color and flavour.  

The nutrition information panel is where you find specific information for the amounts of nutrients, like energy, fat and sugar. It is usually in a table.

3. Per serve column. This can be useful if you need to know what nutrients you are actually consuming (this may be for a specific medical condition). But be cautious as the manufacturer determines the serving size. This serve size may be different to what you actually consume. A 200g tub of yoghurt could have a serve listed as 40g. So if you eat the whole tub, you are eating 5 of their serves. The serve size is also not necessarily the recommended serve size for you. Your individual needs could be more or less than what they have listed

4. Per 100g column. This should be used for comparing similar products. For example, comparing different breakfast cereals or comparing different milks.

If you would like individual advice or specific targets for the nutrition information panel, speak to an Accredited Practicing Dietitian.

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