Sunday, September 24th, 2017

Reading Labels for Healthier Eating



Labels on retail packages are required to have:

  • product name (and brand name)

    Learn to interpret food labels

  • premises and lot information (where and when food was made)
  • manufacturer details, including address
  • mandatory warning and advisory information
  • use-by dates
  • ingredient lists
  • amount/weight of food
  • country of origin
  • a nutrition information panel, if a nutrition claim is made, such as ‘low-fat’.
  • Use-by-Date

The quality of the product is at its best before the use-by-date. After that date, the quality deteriorates and the product maybe unsafe to consume.

A food with a BEST BEFORE date can be sold after that date expires provided it is safe and suitable for consumption. If the manufacturer believes that the food is not suitable for consumption after a certain date the USE BY mark must be adopted. Foods with USE BY cannot be sold after the date shown.

Foods with a shelf life of more than 2 years do not require a use-by date (e.g. canned products)

Reading Labels for Healthier Eating

Food labels can be confusing and hard to understand. To make healthier food choices check:

the ingredient list; and

the nutrition information panel.

So  How do I read the ingredient list?

  • All ingredients are listed in descending order by weight
  • The first three ingredients listed will be the three major ingredients in the food and so on.

What to look for in the ingredient list?

  • Look for foods low in saturated fat.
  • High saturated fat ingredients include animal fat, hydrogenated fat, tallow, butter, palm oil, shortening, ghee, lard, dripping, coconut oil, coconut cream, copha and full cream milk solids.
  • Fat (usually saturated) can appear on the label as:
vegetable oil/fat animal oil or fat frying compound
shortening copha chocolate
lard coconut oil
milk solids butter fat
palm oil
  • Look for foods low in salt.
  • High sodium (salt) ingredients include MSG (monosodium glutamate), sea salt, rock salt, garlic salt, celery salt, vegetable salt, sodium bicarbonate, sodium nitrate, stock cubes, baking powder and baking soda.
  • Look for foods high in dietary fibre.
  • High fibre ingredients include wholegrain, wholewheat, bran, wheatbran, wheatmeal and rolled oats.
  • If one of these ingredients is listed in the first three ingredients or if the ingredient list contains several of these ingredients, then the food product is likely to be high in saturated fat, salt or fibre.
  • Try to choose foods
  • low in saturated fat and salt and high in dietary fibre.
  • Look for foods low in sugar.

Do not be confused by different names for similar ingredients on food labels. For example sugar comes in many names:

sucrose dextrose honey
glucose galactose malt
maltose lactose fructose

Sometimes there is more than one type of fat or sugar in a food. If they were all listed under the same terms, fat would appear much higher on the ingredients list.


Until recently nutrition labelling has only been compulsory where a nutrition claim such as “low salt” has been used. However, because nutrition information was not appearing consistently in terms of content or format new laws have been passed that stated that all manufactured foods will carry a nutrition information panel. The few exceptions are foods in small packages; food like herbs and spices, tea, coffee.

Nutrition panels must show kilojoules (calories), protein, fat & total carbohydrate and sugar contents

These nutrients are usually listed per 100g of the food, per serve size.

If a food product makes a claim about a particular nutrient such as ‘high in dietary fibre’, the sodium content or vitamins and minerals then the amount of fibre, sodium and selected vitamins and minerals must also be listed in the nutrition information panel…

Information is presented per serving size (determined by the manufacturer), per 100g and as a percentage of the Recommended Daily Intake (R.D.I.).

The per 100g figure is useful to compare the nutritional content of similar food products (see example).

Product 1 Per


Per 100g Product 2 Per


Per 100g
Energy 639kJ

(153 Cal)


(340 Cal)

Energy 504kJ

(121 Cal)


(402 Cal)

Protein 4.3g 9.5g Protein 2.1g 7.1g
0.8g 1.7g Fat,
1.4g 4.5g

0.2g 0.4g
0.4g 1.2g
Carbohydrate Carbohydrate
-total 28.6g 63.6g -total 24.2g 80.8g
-sugars 10.2g 22.7g -sugars 9.5g 31.7g
Fibre 6.4g 14.2g Fibre 0.8g 2.5g
Sodium 122mg 270mg Sodium 171mg 570mg
Potassium 324mg 721mg Potassium 40mg 134mg
Cereals (64%) (whole wheat, bran), sultanas (26%), malt
extract, sugar, minerals (iron, zinc oxide), salt, vitamins (niacin,
riboflavin, thiamin, folate).
Corn (55%), sugar, salt, vegetable oil, malt extract, vitamins (vitamin
E, vitamin C, niacin, riboflavin, thiamin, folate), minerals (iron,
zinc oxide).

Product 1 is the healthier choice because:

  • low in saturated fat and sodium and high in fibre than product 2.
  • The ingredients list for product 2 lists sugar and salt in the first three ingredients.

Symbols on Food Labels

CERT TM used under license

  • The Tick Program is the Heart Foundation’s guide to help you make healthier food choices quickly and easily.
  • Foods with the Tick are healthier choices among foods of their type.
  • Tick foods are lower in saturated fat, sodium (salt) and where appropriate kilojoules.
  • Some are also higher in fibre.
  • All foods are independently tested and assessed against strict nutritional guidelines before getting the Tick of approval.

International Diabetes Institute Shop for Gold and Silver

  • The International Diabetes Institute (IDI) “Shop for Gold & Silver” Program uses a Gold Dand
  • Silver D to help identify foods which meet IDI’s evidence-based Food Selection Criteria.
  • Criteria exist for 33 product groups and include recommended levels for Fat, Fibre, Glycemic Index (GI), Sodium and Sugar.
  • The “Shop for Gold & Silver” Program takes into account all lifestyle related conditions, including diabetes, and gives consumers the confidence of knowing that the product has been assessed by a credible health organisation.

What does “Gold” and “Silver” mean?

  • If a product meets all of the levels recommended for its product group, it is entitled to a Gold D.
  • If it meets all but one, it is entitled to a Silver D. In this case, it must meet Fat levels.

Halal Certification Authority Australia

  • On uncooked meat products the Halal symbol means that the animals are humanelyslaughtered after stunning under the supervision of the Australian Quarantine & Inspection Service (AQIS) and the Halal Certification Authority Australia.
  • Meat slaughtered under the conditions mentioned above will carry the Halal symbol if the product does not contain and has not come into contact with alcohol (ethanol) or any other type of animal ingredients.
  • Suitable for Muslims.

Melbourne Kashrut Pty Ltd (Inc. Victoria)

  • This symbol indicates the food has been certified as kosher by Melbourne Kashrut.
  • Kosher rules include:
  • Certain animals may not be eaten at all. This restriction includes the flesh, organs, eggs and milk of the forbidden animals.
  • Kosher animals include: sheep, cattle, goats, deer, chicken, ducks, turkeys, fish (fins & Scales)
  • Non-kosher meats are: camel, hare, pig, shellfish, reptiles, frogs
  • All blood must be drained from the meat or broiled out of it before it is eaten.
  • Certain parts of permitted animals may not be eaten e.g. sciatic nerve, and adjoining blood vessels, the fat around the liver
  • Meat (the flesh of birds and mammals) cannot be eaten with dairy.
  • Fish, eggs, fruits, vegetables and grains can be eaten with either meat or dairy.
  • According to some views, fish may not be eaten with meat.
  • Utensils that have come into contact with meat may not be used with dairy, and vice versa. Utensils that have come into contact with non-kosher food may not be used with kosher food. This applies only where the contact occurred while the food was hot.
  • Grape products made by non-Jews may not be eaten.

Australian Dairy Corporation Dairy Good Symbol

Australian Dairy Mark

Consumer Message

The Australian Dairy Mark enables consumers to quickly and easily recognise that products bearing the symbol are:

(a) Australian

(b) real dairy products and not dairy substitutes

(c) pure and natural

(d) good for you

Coeliac Society of Australia Inc. Gluten Free Symbol

The Coeliac Society of Australia has a program for endorsing foods (and other products e.g. bread machines) to assist our members with food choices.

For a food to be endorsed it must satisfy the food standards code definition of gluten free i.e. no detectable gluten (results must be supplied to the society).

The Glycemic Index (GI) Symbol Program

What the GI symbol means

When you see the GI Symbol on a food package label, you will find the GI value of that food near the nutrition information panel, along with the words ‘high’, ‘medium’ or ‘low’.

.You will also know that the food meets the GI Symbol Program’s nutritional criteria which are different for different food types, but generally mean the food is a good nutritional choice for that food group.

Foods cannot be judged on the basis of their GI alone – other considerations are fibre and fat content, and nutrient density.

Food Additives

A food additive is a substance not normally eaten as a food by itself. An additive is deliberately added to food for a number of purposes including:

  • to enhance appearance
  • to enhance nutritional quality
  • to improve taste
  • to enhance texture
  • to improve storage or
  • to assist in processing

Food additives help keep our food supply safe, wholesome, consistent and available all year round.

Only approved additives can be added to certain, specified foods.

The maximum quantity of additive permitted is also stipulated.

An example of a food additive is an anti-oxidant. Anti-oxidants are used to prevent foods containing fat turning rancid and developing ‘off’ flavours and odours. Anti-oxidants also prevent some foods from going brown.

Numeric codes are used on food ingredient labels to identify these additives. Anti-oxidants are labelled 300 to 322, for instance 302 is calcium ascorbate, a form of vitamin C.

Advertising Claims

Reduced fat or reduced salt: Contain 1/3 less fat or salt than a normal product. Often labelled as “light”.

Low salt: Half the salt content of the normal variety.

Salt free: Neither salt nor any ingredients containing salt have been added.

Low joule: Negligible kilojoules or calories.

Unsweetened: Contain no sugars, mannitol or sorbitol or artificial sweeteners

No Added Sugar: No added sugar such as cane sugar, glucose, fructose, lactose, honey or malt. Usually appears on fruit juice, canned fruits or cereals. However, these products can be sweetened with fruit juice concentrates such as pear juice.

No Cholesterol or Cholesterol Free: This is often used on products of vegetable origin such as vegetable oils or products containing vegetable oils. The label is meaningless considering that cholesterol is only found in products of animal origin. It is more a marketing ploy than nutritional advice.

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