Healthy eating habits/Tips for Understanding Food Labels to Make Healthy Choices
Food labels contain information about food safety and what nutrients are present in the packaged food (DAA, 2014). Reading food labels can be confusing especially if we do not know what to look for and understand what they actually mean. Therefore, learning simple tips can help us make healthier and safer food choices.
The main things to look for when choosing healthy foods are
- Nutrition Information Panel
- ingredient list and
- nutrition content claim.
For food safety purposes you should be aware of
- date mark
- food allergens and warning statements and
- storage requirements.
Nutrition Information Panel(NIP)
When looking at the NIP, use the per 100g column to compare the nutrient values between similar food products across different brands and decide which is a healthier choice. Look out for the following nutrients when shopping for foods:
|Nutrients||Value per 100g|
|Total fat||Generally choose food with less than 10g of total fat per 100g.
For milk, yoghurt and ice-cream, choose less than 2g per 100g. For cheese, choose less than 15g per 100g
|Saturated fat||Aim for the lowest per 100g
Less than 3g per 100g is best
|Sugar||Choose food with less than 10g of sugar per 100g|
|Sodium (Salt)||Food with less than 400mg per 100g is good, and less than 120mg per 100g is best|
|Dietary fibre||At least 7g per 100g|
[Based on material provided by the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC,2014)]
It may be impossible to find a product that meets all the nutrition labeling recommendations mentioned above. However, meeting at least some of them would be beneficial to your health. Also keep in mind that some of the healthiest foods may be unlabeled such as fresh fruit and vegetables, nuts, lentils, beans, fresh lean meat and fish (DAA, 2014).
Ingredient list is usually found on the back of the product. Ingredients are listed in descending order by weight, which means that the first ingredient listed contributes the most to the food product. This can be used to identify foods that are high in salt, saturated fat or sugar if they are listed as one of the top three ingredient (NHMRC, 2014)
Nutrition Content Claims
Nutrition claims are used quite commonly as part of marketing food products and sometimes these claims are not as what you expect them to be. Therefore making sense of what they really mean and checking the Nutrition Information Panel can be really helpful in making healthy choices
Reduced fat or salt
This means that the "food contains at least 25% less" fat or sodium than the original food of the same product (FSANZ, 2013). However, it is important to check the nutrition information panel that it's fat or sodium content is not above the healthy choice recommendation (Baker IDI, 2011).
This means that the food has "no more fat than 1.5g per 100ml for liquid food or 3g per 100g for solid food" (FSANZ, 2013) which meets the healthy choice recommendation. However, take note of the sugar or salt content.
No added sugar
This means that no sugar is added to the product (FSANZ, 2013) but may still contain high amount of natural sugars and may still be high in glycaemic index or energy. This is common in food containing dried fruits.
Light or 'lite' products
Food products that claimed to be light or lite does not always mean that they have 25% less sugar, salt or fat content than the original food product (FSANZ, 2013). It can also mean that they are lighter in texture, taste or colour (Baker IDI, 2011).
The date mark tells us when the food will begin to deteriorate and may be unsafe for consumption. Use by date and best before date have two separate meanings.
|Use by date||The food should not be consumed after it reaches the date stated due to health and safety reasons even if they look fine. Examples of 'use-by' foods are milk, sliced ham and shaved meats|
|Best before date||The food is best to be consumed before the stated date and can still be eaten after it, but the quality may not be the same as what they claimed it to be. They are safe to eat unless they are damaged or deteriorated or perished.|
(NSW Food Authority, 2013)
Storage and preparation requirements
Information regarding storage and preparation direction must be followed to keep food safe and prevent food poisoning. Examples of these instructions are 'Keep refrigerated' and 'store in a cool, dark place' (NSW Food Authority, 2013)
For More Information
- NSW Food Authority: Food Label brochure
- Eat For Health: How to Understand Food Labels
- Baker IDI: Label Reading
- Dietitian Association of Australia: Find an Accredited Practising Dietitian for specific dietary advice
- Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute. (2011). Label Reading. Retried [22 November 2014] from http://www.bakeridi.edu.au/Assets/Files/Label%20Reading%202011%20PDF.pdf
- Dietitian Association of Australia (DAA). (2014). Food Labelling. Retrieved [22 November 2014] from http://daa.asn.au/?page_id=805.
- Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ). (2013). Nutrition, Health and Related Claims. Retrieved [22 November 2014] from http://www.comlaw.gov.au/Details/F2013L00054
- National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC). (2014). How to Understand Food Labels. Retrieved [22 November 2014] from http://www.eatforhealth.gov.au/eating-well/how-understand-food-labels
- NSW Food Authority. (2013). 'Best before' and 'Use by' dates. Retrieved [22 November 2014] from http://www.foodauthority.nsw.gov.au/consumers/food-labels/label-facts/best-before-and-use-by-dates/best-before-and-use-by-dates#.VEj2efmUdws