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How to Read Food Labels

Food Labels and Labelling Techniques

When it comes to feeding ourselves and our families we’re lucky to have so many choices. While choosing fresh whole food and cooking from scratch is no doubt the best option, the reality is that ready-made comes in handy especially when life gets busy. The key to staying healthy is to make the right choices. This means understanding food labels including the health star rating, the ingredient list and the nutrition information panel.

Health star rating system

The Health Star Rating is a voluntary front-of-pack labelling system rolled out in late 2014. It rates the overall nutritional profile of packaged food and assigns it a rating from ½ a star to 5 stars. It provides a quick, easy, standard way to compare similar packaged foods at a glance – the more stars, the healthier the choice. The number of health stars in the rating is calculated based on 100g or 100ml of a product.


Ingredient list

When reading the ingredients list it’s important to know that ingredients are listed from greatest to smallest by weight. Use this to check the first three ingredients for items high in saturated fat, salt or added sugar. Keep in mind that manufacturers often use different names to hide fat, sugar and salt.

Fat: Animal fat/oil, beef fat, butter, milk solids, coconut (oil, milk, cream), copha, cream, ghee, dripping, lard, suet, palm oil, sour cream, vegetable shortening.

Sugar: Dextrose, fructose, glucose, golden syrup, honey, maple syrup, rice malt syrup, sucrose, malt, maltose, lactose, brown, raw, caster and sucrose.

Salt: Baking powder, celery salt, garlic salt, sea salt, sodium, sodium – ascorbate, bicarbonate, nitrate, nitrite), stock cubes, vegetable salt.

The Nutrition Information Panel

The Nutrition Information Panel (NIP) shows how much energy, fat, protein, carbohydrate, sugars, and salt a product has. It must also validate any nutrient claims made on the packaging such as ‘good source of vitamin B’. By law, the NIP must give this information per 100g and per serve.

Understanding how to read food labels not only helps you understand what is in the food but also empowers you to decipher the marketing messages featured on the packaging. Common nutrition claims used by manufacturers include;

‘No added sugar’ – this means the product contains no added sugar, but may still contain natural sugars, for example fruit juice.

‘Light or lite’ – this does not necessarily mean low in energy, sugar, fat or salt. For example, it may mean light in colour, lightly toasted, light in salt or light in taste.

‘Baked not fried’ – even though these products are cooked in the oven they can still can have the same amount of fat as deep fried products so it’s important to read the label.

Learning how to read labels is taught as part of the PEACH (Parenting, Eating and Activity for Child Health) program available free for Queensland families struggling to maintain a healthy weight in their children. To find out more about the program call 1800 263 519 or www.peachqld.com.au The next intake is 27th April 2015 and it’s FREE!!

For more information about food labelling and healthy eating options:

This article was published in Issue 9 of our print magazine, April/May 2015.

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Janine Mergler

Janine Mergler is a veteran Queensland teacher, graduating from QUT with a BEd majoring in Social Sciences. After many years in the classroom, Janine moved on to academia. She has proudly trained new generations of teachers in her role as a lecturer at Queensland University of Technology Faculty of Education. She has also worked in the Queensland Government as an education specialist, developing education resources and delivering community awareness programs to help families conserve water. Currently she is the owner and editor of Families Magazine, a publication specifically targeted at parents who value a quality education for children.  Janine leads a team of professionals who write about family lifestyle, early childhood, schools and education information and family-friendly events.

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