Understanding Food Labels
If you ask people what they look out for when shopping, a good number of Aussies will tell that they love a certain brand. If you ask why you will find out that it is not about the quality of nutrients but the brand name. Most people do not take the time to check the food label to know what value the food they are buying is adding them. They don’t know the importance of understanding food labels.
In this guide, we are providing you a food labels fact sheet to help you understand how to read food labels and more so how to interpret the information provided by the manufacturer. To achieve that, we are going to look at three critical tools that food shoppers should look out for to understand food labels. They are the nutrition information on food labels, nutritional claims, and nutrition symbols.
1. Nutrition Information on Food Labels
If you are eating healthy or observing your diet keenly, you need to pay a lot of attention to the nutrition information of the food that you are buying. This is where information about the nutritional value of the food is put in details. There are two useful tools that you need to check out: the nutrition information panel and the ingredients list.
a) Nutrition Information Panel
The nutritional information panel is usually put on the packed food, which is compulsory as dictated by Australia’s Food Labelling Laws. The panel provides useful information to help food buyers compared products in the market and select options that meet their nutritional needs. The panel includes the following:
i. Serving Size
Dieticians work with serving, and that is why the nutrition information panels also provide the measurement in service. Similarly, the manufacturer breaks down figures in serving size in one column and another column of nutrients per 100g. You are also provided with the number of serving in that food, which makes it easy to prepare a meal. So if your dietician has recommended serving size of X grams, then you can easily calculate how much you need from the food you have bought by comparing the two. So just check if the serving size is smaller or larger and then do calculations or ask your dietician for help get it right.
ii. Total Fat
The amount of fat in food is another factor to consider while shopping for food. That is why the manufacturer must provide the ‘total fat’ which is the amount of monounsaturated, saturated, polyunsaturated, and trans fats per serving and 100g. In addition, you will get to know the amount of ‘saturated fat’ in the food. The lower the amount of saturated fat and trans fat per serving or 100g, the better.
There are two things about carbohydrates that nutrition information panel provide- total carbohydrates and sugars. The ‘total carbohydrate’ is crucial since it is the one that affects blood sugar. So if you are managing blood glucose levels, this is a very important figure provided by food labels. For the ‘sugars’ figure, it includes both added and natural sugar such as fructose in fruits and lactose in milk. So you will need to work out these two figures to get the right amount of carbohydrate in your servings.
iv. Sodium or Salt
Sodium is crucial to your health as it helps keep blood pressure at a healthy range, helps retain water in the body, and so on. These are just some of the reasons why you need it in the food. However, too much of it harmful to your health. It can cause chronic diseases like gastric cancer, weak bones, and cardiovascular risks. That is why sodium quantity in the food is crucial. So the lower the amount of sodium, the better. At least 150mg per 100g will be good.
Last but not least is the number of kilojoules or calories in the food. The amount of energy needed depends on your needs. If you are in bodybuilding, you will definitely need food with a lot of energy. But if you are under a weight loss program, food with few kilojoules can help a lot.
Depending on the food, the list of nutrients could be longer. They may include fibre, and so on.
b) Ingredient list
The ingredient list usually provides more details of what is covered in the nutrition information panel. The order of food starts with the major ingredient to the much small one in terms of weight. For instance, if it is sugar, the manufacturer will write down all the types of sugars used in the food. Same case to salts and fat. This information helps shopper decide which product is healthier based on ingredients used. It is from the ingredient list that you can tell if the sugar used is added or natural. That is why it a crucial food labelling tool to check out for.
2. Nutritional Claims
Nutrition claims have widely been used by manufacturers to attract the attention of shoppers. The main aim is to market on the health benefits of the ingredients used in the food. However, buyers should counter check these claims to ascertain if they are true or false. For instance, you will find a brand claiming that their food is high in fibre. If the food does not have at least 3g of fibre per serving, then the statement is false. Other common nutrition claims include low salt, no added salt, low joule, reduced fat, no added sugar, and so on. As the name suggests, these are just ‘claims’ and should be investigated before buying.
3. Nutrition Symbols
There are several nutritional symbols used in Australia that can help you understand food panels. These are symbols that prove the food has been tested and found to meet specific criteria. Most Aussie manufactures use the Health Star Rating and Glycemic Index (GI) Symbols to prove the authenticity of their nutrition information panel. That is why they are a crucial part of food labels.
To buy healthy food, you must understand food panels as this is where all the information is hidden. Do not shop for food blindly and fall for the frivolous nutritional claims. Check what the nutrition information panel is saying to ensure that you are buying healthy food.