How To Understand Food Labels?

Food labels can be very confusing and tricky to understand. Often we don’t have the time to spend trying to work out what they mean and how to use them.


However, a few quick tips can make shopping for healthy food a whole lot easier and quicker and can help you lose weight. Knowing what nutrition information to look for, can help you make the best choice for your health and avoid unnecessary saturated fat, added salt, added sugars and kilojoules.

Labels on most packaged food must meet strict requirements that include information for people with food allergies, food additive listings and food storage instructions. More information about food labelling requirements can be found at Food Labels.

While food labels can carry many different types of information, the main things to look at when choosing healthy food are the Nutrition Information Panel.

Nutrition Information Panel

The Nutrition Information Panel on a food label offers the simplest and easiest way to choose foods with less saturated fat, salt (sodium), added sugars and kilojoules, and more fibre. It can also be used to decide how large one serve of a food group choice or discretionary food would be and whether it’s worth the kilojoules. This is particularly important if you are trying to lose weight.

First use the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating to decide whether a food belongs in the five food groups and is an ‘everyday’ food for eating regularly, or a discretionary food best eaten only sometimes or in small amounts.

Then use the Nutrition Information Panel to compare similar packaged foods and to decide which product provides less saturated fat, salt (sodium), added sugars and kilojoules per 100gm and more fibre per serve.

Small image of the an example Nutrition Information Panel. Links to larger version.

Using Nutrition Information Panels to help you lose weight

If we want to lose weight, it’s best to avoid discretionary foods as they provide few nutrients but plenty of kilojoules. However, it is still possible to include small serves of discretionary foods, eaten occasionally and savoured by eating slowly and enjoying the food with all our senses.

The trick is to choose only the foods or drinks that we really enjoy. Some people have a sweet tooth or love chocolate, others prefer savoury and love a great cheese. Other people really enjoy a wine sipped slowly. All food is not equally special for us. We all have our favourites.

The Nutrition Information Panel can help us decide if a food is really ‘kilojoule worthy’. Beware of foods that look like a single serve, but actually contain several servings in one packet. Once we know the kilojoules in a serve, we can weigh up whether our enjoyment warrants the extra kilojoules.