How to read and understand food labels


Reading and understanding food labels can be challenging and confusing. Australia has laws that require all manufactured foods to display safety and nutritional information (Nutrition Information Panel- NIP).

NIP’s are a great way of comparing similar foods to find out the healthier option… but only if you can understand what they say.

Don’t worry, the home doctor experts at House Call Doctor are here to clarify.

  1. Let’s start with the basics

All nutritional information panels will list energy (kilojoules), protein, fat (total), saturated fat, carbohydrate (total), sugars and sodium.

Of course, there are other nutrients like vitamins and minerals that can also be listed too. If you are looking to lose weight, it’s best to avoid discretionary foods as they provide few nutrients but plenty of kilojoules.

Also check the serving size, as some packaged foods may contain more than a single serving.

  1. Health Star Rating system

The Health Star Rating (HSR) is usually located on the front of the pack and was developed to provide convenient, relevant and readily understood nutrition information. This makes it much easier for shoppers to make informed choices about healthier food options. This system helps you compare similar food products, such as breakfast cereals, to see what the healthier option is.

  1. Know the nutrition claims

Nutritional claims on food packaging can be deceiving, so here are some examples of some claims and what they mean.

Low fat – must have 3 grams of fat or less per 100 grams

Fat free – must have 0.15 grams fat or less per 100 grams

Lite or Light – check the nutritional information for this one as it may mean lite in colour/ taste not lite in salt, fat or sugar

No Added Sugar – this food has no ‘added’ sugar but still may be high in sugar so check the label

  1. Daily Intake Guide

Some labels also list nutrients in a serve of the product as a percentage of daily nutrient intake. You can use this to compare it to what an ‘average adult’ needs, however, listen to your individual needs as they may differ (especially kilojoules).