With tens of thousands of products on the supermarket shelves all screaming out for shoppers’ attention, it can become overwhelming for busy shoppers to figure out who to listen to. Today, we welcome Amanda Clark, an Advanced Accredited Practising Dietitian to share about how to read food labels and determine if a product is really a healthy choice.
About food labels in Australia
Food labels are designed to attract and inform. While food labels are not allowed to deliberately mislead they can still be difficult to understand. By law, every packaged food must have a label. If the product is small then the labeling may be on the outer packaging which is why you sometimes see that statement “not for individual sale” – because that would separate the product from it’s label. The label must include vital information to help the consumer to make informed food choices, but it can be confusing so here are some tips.
How to read food labels in Australia
Understanding Serving Sizes on Food Labels in Australia
Products with nutrition labels usually show two figures, the first being per serve and the second being per 100g of food. Use the “per 100g” to compare between products in the supermarket or compare to national guidelines.. Use the per serve figures to check the energy and the nutrition you will be consuming.
First check that company’s judgement of a serving size is the same as you plan to eat. Sometimes a package that looks like it is for one indicates that it serves 2 or more in the fine print. Forrester’s On the Go Trail Mix is an example of this. The pack certainly looks like a single serve at 45g but the per serve nutritional information shown below is only based on 25g which is not even exactly half the pack.
|PRODUCT: Forresters On the Go Trail Mix, 45g|
|Servings per package: approx. 2|
|Serving size: 25g|
|Nutrient||Ave Quantity per serving||Ave Quantity per 100g|
|Energy||525 kJ ( 126 Cal)||2100 kJ / 502 Cal|
|Dietary fibre, total||1.7g||6.8g|
INGREDIENTS: Sliced sweetened Dried Cranberries ( 40%) ( Cranberries, Sugar, Vegetable Oil), Almonds ( 30%), White Chocolate ( 30%) ( Sugar, Cocoa Butter, Full Cream Milk Powder, Emulsifier from Soy, Natural Flavours) Trail Mix Contains 22% Cranberries, 9% Cocoa Solids And 6% Milk Solids.
I will continue to refer to this table throughout the rest of the article to help explain how to understand a food label.
This is usually quoted in kilojoules which is the correct metric measure for Australia, but sometimes also in Calories.
If you were dividing your energy between 3 meals plus 3 snacks, then typical expectations of energy content can be seen in the table below. Put simply a snack is ideally 420 kJ/100 Cals for weight loss or 840 kJ/200 Cals for weight maintenance for all of us. So for the product shown, approx. half the packet is a fine weight loss energy intake or the whole packet for weight maintenance.
|Weight Maintenance||Weight Loss|
|Women||1890 kJ /450 Cals||840 kJ/ 200 Cals||1470 kJ / 350 Cals||420 kJ / 100 Cals|
|Men||2310 kJ /550 Cals||840 kJ/ 200 Cals||1890 kJ /450 Cals||420 kJ / 100 Cals|
Protein maintains muscle, helps you feel more satisfied and keeps your blood sugar levels steady. Your daily requirement is likely to be 50 – 80g. Note the product above contains 2.2g for a weight loss serving size of half the packet or just under 5g for the full pack. Not a bad contribution to a weight maintenance intake.
This is broken down into total fat and saturated fat. In general you want no more than one-third of the fat in the food to be saturated. For this product half the fat is saturated. The definition of a low fat food is that it contains less than 3g fat per 100g. The per 100g column shows this product contains 27.8g fat per 100g so it is high in fat, but a look at the ingredients list shows this trail mix is almost 1/3 white chocolate which explains the proportion of saturated fat, and the high total fat is made up of chocolate and almonds , with the almonds supplying the source of good fats.
This is broken down into total carbohydrate and sugars. The total carbohydrate contains all sugars and starches.
One trick for the unwary is that the sugars figure includes naturally occurring sugars in any fruit or milk ingredients plus added sugars. The ingredients list tells us that sugar forms part of the chocolate and the cranberry ingredients. Look for products with less than 10g of sugar per 100g or 20g sugar per 100g if it contains a significant component of fruit (eg. 25%). This product does have a high fruit content at approx. 22% and contains 51g sugar per 100g which is high.
The definition of a high fibre food is that it contains greater than 3g fibre per 100g of food. This one contains 6.8g per 100g so is considered a good source, though you will be eating 1.7g, or more likely a full pack which is 3.5g.
Low salt foods contain less than 120mg of sodium per 100g of food. This product is sweet rather than savoury and contains only 54mg/100g.
Overall, I would consider this product to be an occasional food. It contains some good ingredients in the form of cranberries and almonds mixed with a bit too much sugar and saturated fat.
About the Author
Amanda Clark is an Advanced Accredited Practising Dietitian, author of the 2018 Australian Healthy Snack Bible and Portion Perfection – a visual weight control plan, incorporating actual portion plates and bowls. www.greatideas.net.au
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