Healthy eating habits/Getting to know your labels

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Figure 1: NIP panel example with a brief description of where to find the servings per package, serving size, per serving and per 100g

How to interpret a food label: Key things to look out for in healthy adult eating

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By Deevya Gupta

Nutrition information panels (NIP) are found on most foods with the exception of some fresh foods, herbs, spices and foods in small packets.

What do parts of the NIP mean? (See Figure 1 for a detailed explanation)

  • Servings per package
  • Serving size
  • Per serving (nutrient)
  • Per 100g (nutrient)

Note: Serving sizes are determined by the manufacturer and unless you eat these serving sizes then may be of little help.

Figure 2: RDI %, an example of the label seen in front of many food products to indicate what percentage a serving makes up of the daily recommended intake (8700kJ intake average)
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Most foods now come with the RDI panel (shown in Figure 2) at the front of the packaging to show approximately how much a serve of the product with contribute towards the % RDI for certain nutrients. These values are based on an average adult intake of 8700kJ. Your needs may be more or less than this.

An approximate energy intake value can be calculated at:


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There are five main nutrients to look out for when shopping for foods:

  • Energy (Kilojoules kJ)
  • Fats (total, saturated and trans)
  • Sodium (salt)
  • Carbohydrates (sugars)
  • Fibre


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Energy needs vary from person to person, try and stick to two snacks a day. The average intake on food packaging is rounded to 8700kJ.

(Baker IDI, 2011)

Aim for foods with <10g/100g total fat and less than 2g/100g saturated fat. Trans fats should be as close to zero as possible. There may be some exceptions to total fat for example: milk, yoghurt, cottage/ricotta cheese, other cheeses, margarine and nuts and oils. Choose a food product that has the least amount of total, trans and saturated fat. Low fat products contain less than 3g/100g fat in the food.

Figure 3: Heart foundation approval tick
Figure 4: Low GI certified symbol
Figure 5: Vegan friendly symbol

Carbohydrates (Sugars)

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(Baker IDI, 2011)

Aim for <15g/100g of sugar in your selected food product. Exceptions may be products such as foods containing dried fruit which have naturally occurring sugar.

Sodium (salt)

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Aim for low sodium foods <120mg/100g (Heart Foundation 2013). Exceptions may be products such as stock which may have up to 400mg/100g. For foods that already have a high amount of sodium, avoid adding any extra salt (Baker IDI, 2011).


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Aim for 7.5g/100g or more (Baker IDI, 2011). Adults should aim for a total of 25-30g of fibre per day (Heart Foundation, 2013). Exceptions may be foods that do not contain fibre such as dairy foods.

Note: Ingredients used to make up fat, sugar or sodium may be listed as different names on the label.

Nutrition claims

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Take note of any nutrition claims made on packaging and make sure they are supported. Ensure that you look at the overall picture and do not get drawn in by one claim (e.g. lollies that are 99% fat free, does not mean it is good for you!)

Symbols on packaging

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Depending on your specific dietary requirements, you may like to be on the lookout for certain symbols (shown in photos beside) on packaging such as:

  • Heart Foundation tick (Figure 3)
  • Low GI-Certified (Figure 4)
  • Vegan/vegetarian friendly (Figure 5)
  • Other components of foods (Figure 6) e.g. Lactose-free, Gluten-free

Food allergies

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These are clearly listed on the packaging in bold.

Additional useful resources:

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* Printable NIP wallet card

* More information on label reading

* Calculate your approximate energy needs

* Find your nearest Accredited Practising Dietitian for specific dietary advice

References used:

Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute (2011). Label Reading. Retrieved 1st September 2013,


Heart Foundation (2013). Food Labels. Retrieved 1st September 2013,