Understanding Nutrition Information Panels: Getting Your Head Around the Hieroglyphics

That box of numbers and shit on almost all food products can actually provide you with a lot of useful nutrition information if you’re looking to make healthier choices next time you go grocery shopping. We’re not often taught how to read food labels though, so instead of providing a valuable insight into the product, the label becomes a patch of hieroglyphics only deciphered by someone who has the time to stand in the supermarket for longer than necessary.

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Let me summarise it all:

What is recommended?

100g column and serving size
If you’re going to compare the nutrients in similar food products, or are looking for a direct comparison, use the 100g column. If you’re interested in how much energy you’re going to get from a single portion of the product, read the per serve column. Watch out of the serving size though, that little bitch can get you. For example, looking at a huge bag of chips and thinking ‘I could down that whole bag during the ad for a Youtube video’ might cause you to assume the whole bag of chips is a single serve, but realistically a serve of this particular product is actually 25g. Yeah.

If you’re hoeing down on a snack, try and not let your discretionary items exceed 600kJ.

Total Fat and Saturated Fat
Generally, it is best to choose foods with less than 10g of fat per 100g.
When choosing milk, yoghurt or ice-cream, try and aim for less than 2g per 100g.
For cheese (and who doesn’t love cheese), choose less than 15g per 100g.
In terms of saturated fat, the product with the lowest number here. Less than 3g per 100g is best.

Image: Planetizen

Image: Planetizen

Despite what is circulating the health-obsessed web right now, completely eliminating sugar from your diet is not necessary. You do want limit the amount of products you purchase with large amount of added sugar though. If the amount of sugar in the product is greater than 15g per 100g, check to see where sugar (or other sneaky names for sugar) is on the ingredient list.

Sodium (salt)
Lower sodium options are best: less than 400mg per 100g is good, but less than 120mg per 100g is best. Again, some products won’t say salt or sodium in the ingredient list, instead using an alternative name that may not be picked up on as quickly.

Not all labels include the fibre content. When choosing breads or cereals though, aim for 3g of fibre or more per 100g.

Ingredients List
The ingredients are listed from greatest to smallest by weight. You can use this to check the first three ingredients for products high in saturated fat, sodium or added sugar.

The Eat for Health website includes a pretty, coloured graphic of this information, that you can print out and stick on the fridge. Access that for free, here. Similarly, if you’d like a little more information to gander, plus some interesting facts about what some common health claims may actually mean, a more detailed resource for deciphering nutrition labels is available here.