In Australia, all manufactured foods need to have labels containing safety and nutrition information. Nutrition labels are extremely handy pieces of information that can help you have a deeper understanding about what you’re putting into your body. The label will tell you things like:
- The name of the product, describing accurately what it is
- The brand name
- Ingredients (listed in order from largest to smallest by weight)
- Nutritional information (energy, fat, protein, sugars and salt)
- Percentage labelling (how much of the main ingredients it contains)
- Use-by or best-before date
- Details of the manufacturer
- Allergen info information for people with food allergies
- Directions for use and storage
- Country where the food was sourced & manufactured
The thing is, some brands manfactureres are sneaky and will often have health claims on their packaging making you belive it’s healthy, when that’s not always the case. In this guide, we’ll be showing you exactly how to read nutiriotn labels to help you achieve your health and gitnes goals and give you the tools you need for meal prepping success.
How to Read Australian Nutrition Labels
The Nutrition Information Panel tells you the size of a standard serving of the product, and the nutrients contained in that serving. You can use the label to compare the product with what’s in similar packaged foods.
Pay close attention to the following:
|Energy||Kilojoules (kJ), and calories (kcal) are both measures of energy. We all have different calorie needs per day, so the kj/kcal in a product is important to pay attention to for a healthy diet.|
|Protein||Adequate protein is essential for a healthy diet. You want to be eating roughly 0.8g of protein per kg of body weight.|
|Fat||Fat is higher in calorie than other nutrients, it’s a good idea to limit the total amount you eat.|
|Saturated fat||There are different types of fat and saturated fats are linked to an increased risk of heart disease and high blood cholesterol, so opt for foods low in saturated fat.|
|Carbohydrate (total)||Carbohydrates are found in all almost all food. Carbs are essential for energy, but the amount of carbs you need per day will depend on your daily activity level/health goals.|
|Sugar||Sugar is a type of carbohydrate and is listed seperately to overall carbs. Try limit foods that are high in added sugars.|
|Fibre||Fibre is an essential nutrient to keep you full and keep your digestive health on track.|
|Soidum||Sodium is the scentific name for salt.Eating too much salt is linked to high blood pressure and can lead to heart disease, stroke and kidney disease.|
Unpacking the Health Star Rating System
The Health Star Rating on the front of the pack is designed to help you choose healthier packaged foods. The Australian Federal Government’s Health Star Rating claims to “take some of the guess work out of shopping” and help consumers “make smarter choices” when it comes to buying food.
Packaged foods are rated at between ½ and 5 stars. The rating is calculated according to ingredients that increase the risk of obesity and contribute to other chronic diseases. The more stars, the healthier the product is technically supposed to be… but that’s not always the case.
The HSR was created to give consumers an “at-a-glance overall health rating” of packaged and processed foods. Seven nutrients are taken into account to determine the rating. Food loses points for energy, saturated fat, sugar and salt, while it gains points for fruit and vegetable content, protein and fibre. These ratings are combined and then an overall score is produced. It does have its flaws, however, which you can read more about here.
While there is no disputing the system helps as a guideline, many nutritionists believe common sense should ultimately prevail.
|Health Star Rating Pros||Health Star Rating Cons|
Use Nutrition Labels to Compare Products
Nutrition labels are a useful tool for comparing similiar product. You can look at the Nutrition Information Panel that states the quantity of a nutrient per 100g or per 100ml so you know you are comparing the same thing.
Try to choose products that have lower levels of saturated fat, sugar and sodium (salt) per 100g, and higher levels of fibre. It’s also important to look at the food as a whole, rather than focusing on one nutrient, when comparing simliar products.
Dont’ Fall for These Marketing Tactics
While the nutrition label on the back of food packaging must be accurate, that doesn’t stop brands using health claims designed to catch your attention and make you believe the product is healthier than it is.
Here are some common health claims and what they actually mean:
- Light: Light products are typically processed to reduce fat. But, they often have added sugar in its place, so be mindful of that. Also might be written as ‘low-fat’. Typical with milk and dairy products.
- Multigrain: Multigrain simply means the product contains more than one type of grain, but these are most likley refined grains.
- Natural: All this means is that at one point in the manfacturing process the product had a natural source in it – like apples or rice etc. Doesn’t make the final product any less processed.
- Organic: Misleading because it doesn’t mean a product is healthy – organic sugar is still sugar.
- No added sugar: Some products are naturally high in sugar, like fruit. Just because they don’t have added sugar doesn’t mean they’re void of any sugar.
- Low-calorie: Low-calorie products mean the product has to have one-third fewer calories than the brand’s original product. However, one brand’s low-calorie version may have similar calories as another brand’s original.
- Low-carb: While low-carb diets can help you lose weight, just because an item is marketed as low carb it doesn’t mean it’shasn’t been processed. It can still be low-carb and “junk” food, or low-carb and high in saturated fat.
- Gluten-free: Gluten-free doesn’t mean healthy. The product simply doesn’t contain wheat, spelt, rye, or barley. Many gluten-free foods are highly processed and contain unhealthy fats and sugar.
Don’t let this list scare you – most healthy foods are organic, whole grain and natural. However, just use your common sense and pay close attention to the labelling when healthy food shopping.
Know the Different Names for Sugar
Sugar is hidden in a lot of processed foods by names you might not recognise. Food manufacturers use this to their advantage by purposely adding many different types of sugar to their products to hide the actual amount. This is how manafactuer’s avoid listing sugar in the first three ingreidents (with the first three ingredients being most of what the product is made of).
Here are some of the different names of sugar, syrup and other types:
- Sugar: beet sugar, brown sugar, buttered sugar, cane sugar, caster sugar, coconut sugar, date sugar, golden sugar, invert sugar, muscovado sugar, organic raw sugar, raspadura sugar, evaporated cane juice, and confectioner’s sugar.
- Syrup: carob syrup, golden syrup, high-fructose corn syrup, honey, agave nectar, malt syrup, maple syrup, oat syrup, rice bran syrup, and rice syrup.
- Other: barley malt, molasses, cane juice crystals, lactose, corn sweetener, crystalline fructose, dextran, malt powder, ethyl maltol, fructose, fruit juice concentrate, galactose, glucose, disaccharides, maltodextrin, and maltose
Why You Should Read Nutrition Labels
✅ Make informed choices
✅ Create balanced meals
✅ Avoid allergens
✅ Achieving your health and fitness goals
Australian Nutrition Labels Resources
- Understanding food labels (GRAPH)
- Serving recommendations for children & adolescents
- Serving recommendations for adults
- Health Star Rating info
- Food Standards ANZ
Keep Reading Meal Prepping Tips:
- How to plan meals in advance
- How to create a grocery list
- How to incorporate variety into your meals