How to read a food label (hint: it's easy!)

Created with the Heart Foundation
Woman reading food labels in a supermarket aisle

Looking to make healthier food choices? Reading the nutrition information on the back of your supermarket products is a great place to start.

Crunching the numbers

When it comes to reading food labels, the first step is to look for the nutrition information panel, which is usually located on the back or side of a product’s packaging. These panels contain detailed info about how much salt, sugar and various types of fat you’re likely to find in a product, as well as their carbohydrate and kilojoule values. You might also see listings for vitamins, minerals and fibre there as well. 

Manufacturers are required to provide two columns in the nutrition information panel: one shows the amount of each nutrient per serving (the panel will also detail how many servings there are in the jar/packet – however, it’s important to note that the amount you actually eat might be more than the designated serving size), while the other shows the amount per 100g/ml of product. Some products (though not all) will also have a third column that shows how much of the recommended daily intake of each nutrient is included in a single serving.

Comparing apples with apples 

As well as giving you valuable information about the nutrient values of what you’re eating and drinking, these nutrition information panels can also help you compare two (or more!) similar products – for example, two different brands of yoghurt. 

Because serving sizes can vary between products, comparing the 100g/ml measurement of two different products will give you the best like-for-like comparison. For example, if one brand of yoghurt has 12.5g of sugar per 100g, and another has 8g per 100g, it’s pretty easy to see which one is better for your health. 

However, while it can be tempting to choose a product based on the nutrition information of a single ingredient, it’s important to look at each item as a whole to deliver the most benefit to your overall health. See you to protect your heart here.

Key nutrients: here’s what you need to know

bottles of oil in a row

Fats

 

Nutrition information labels will often list more than one type of fat – you might see a listing for total fats, saturated fats and/or unsaturated fats. Unfortunately, trans fat is often not listed, which can make it hard to make a healthy choice. But don’t despair – this is where the ingredients list comes in handy. Avoid products that contain partially hydrogenated vegetable oil or vegetable fat, animal fat, copha, palm oil and coconut oil as these ingredients have high levels of saturated or trans fats. Opt for products full of heart-healthy fats instead.  

Learn more about adding healthy fats to your diet here

8 small bowls of different kinds of salt

Sodium (salt)

 

Can’t see salt on the ingredient list? Try looking for sodium instead (monosodium glutamate and vegetable salt are also salt, so keep an eye out for these terms as well!). To choose a low salt option, look for products with less than 120mg of sodium per 100g. Remember, eating too much sodium can put you at risk of developing high blood pressure and heart disease. 

Learn more about salt and heart health here

Fruit and grains on a kitchen bench

Dietary fibre

 

Now for a healthy option: dietary fibre is a protective nutrient that can reduce your risk of developing chronic diseases. Despite this, most Aussies don’t eat enough of it. Check the nutrition informal panels of your favourite products and pick those with the highest level per serving – anything with more than 2g of fibre per serving is considered a good source. Fruit and veg are also great sources of dietary fibre, as are bread, cereal, pasta and rice. But remember: wholegrain options have more fibre than white!


Logo of Coles and Heart Foundation

Coles has partnered with the Heart Foundation to provide this content to you and help Australians live healthier and happier lives.

For personalised heart health information and support, contact the Heart Foundation Helpline 13 11 12.

 

Healthier living starts here

Whether you’re looking for tasty and nutritious midweek dinner ideas or are catering for a range of dietary requirements, we have you covered with our healthy recipe collections

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