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How to Read Food Nutrition Labels

Ever felt like you need a degree in nuclear physics to decipher the labels, ratings and ingredients lists on packaged foods?


You’re not alone. And guess what? Food companies actually like it that way! The harder and more confusing it is for you to understand exactly what’s in that packet of biscuits, the more likely you’ll give in to Big Food’s sneaky tricks. 


Fear not! Here are a few quick tricks you can whip out in the supermarket isle that allow you to take back the control!


Ingredients lists 


Let’s start simple. Ingredients are always listed in order of largest to smallest amount in the given product. So, if sugar or another nasty appears in the first one or two listed ingredients, chances are the product is mostly made of that! 


You’ll also want to watch out for sugar ingredients disguised as other names (check out our list here), as well as ingredients you don’t actually recognise as food. 


Servings per package 


Including multiple serves in the one packaged product is a trick often used by Big Food to fool you into a false sense of healthy security. 


That bar of chocolate might seem like a single serve to you, but there may actually be two, three or even more serves in the same package (and who’s really going to stop at a third of a bar?).


If you spot more than one serve in your product, look at the serving size and make a realistic evaluation as to whether you’re likely to eat that much in one go. 


You’ll then need to multiply the per serve column by the number of serves in the pack – or the number of serves you’re likely to eat – to see exactly how much fat, sugar or calories lay within. 


Servings per 100g 


Servings per 100g is a cheat’s way to see what percentage of carbs, sugar, fat etc a given product is physically made of.


You just need to do some quick and easy math to figure out is a product is right for you. For example, if a product is 50g sugar per 100g, that means the product is made of 50% sugar (picture that!). If a product has 50g fat per 100g, the product is half fat. And so on. 


This column is also handy when comparing similar products with different serves per package.


Health claims 


The label might make a slew of nutrition claims – gluten free, low fat, reduced salt or high fibre – on its shiny exterior. But just because a product can make a nutrition claim, doesn't mean it’s healthy. 


A classic example? Products claiming to be low fat often have more kilojoules – and far more sugar – than similar products. And you can read our take on the whole Health Star Rating system here.


The safest bet is to always check the nutrition panel to see how the product compares.

 

Image source: abc.net.au