How to read food labels

Does this sound familiar….

  • Nutritious
  • High fibre
  • High protein
  • Low fat
  • Sugar free
  • All natural
  • Gluten free
  • Low Carb
  • No artificial colours

But what does it all mean? Is it healthy?

The grocery stores are filled with products making endless claims about health and nutrition, it’s no wonder people are finding themselves confused. Then you turn the product over to have a look at the food label and nutritional information and find yourself even more confused.

Here are a few things to look out for before deciding if the product is right for you:


There are 2 main things to be aware of when looking at the ingredients list, order of ingredients and amount of different ingredients.

Ingredients are listed in order of amount found in the product by weight. So the first ingredient makes up the main portion of the food and so on. The first 3 ingredients are generally the ones you want to focus on, as they make up the bulk of the food. Ideally these ingredients would be a natural food such as fruit, vegetables or whole grains, avoiding fats and sugars.

The amount of ingredients listed is also key, as products with a long list of ingredients are generally highly processed with lots of additives. Products with a small of ingredients

Health star rating


The health star rating system is for use in Australia and New Zealand, and is designed to make it easy to select healthy options at a glance. Star ratings vary from ½ a star, being poor nutritional value and 5 star, being a healthy option. This can be useful when comparing similar products such as breakfast cereals. You can easily make a choice between the sugary, 1 star cereal and the 5 star plain rolled oats option.
Whilst this is a great start, it’s still important to look at the food label on the back to give a true indication of the nutritional value of the product.

Nutritional Information

The below image is a sample of what the nutritional label on the back of the packaging may look like. First thing to look at is the serving size. Most serving sizes are a smaller quantity than the average person will end up consuming, therefore this needs to be taken into account when working out the nutritional information.
Next look at the % daily value, this tells you the percentage of your daily intake (average adult) of that ingredient per serve, you are consuming. For example, if it states total fat 35% Daily Value, one serve of that food is 35% of your total recommended fat intake for that day.


When looking at the fat content the main ones to avoid are trans fats and saturated fats. These can lead to heart disease and an increase in blood cholesterol. Fat is other forms is ok to consume, but should be limited.


Sugar can be hidden as many things, such as, sucrose, fructose, dextrose, maltose, glucose, lactose, molasses, syrup, malt extract, raw sugar, and brown sugar. It’s always best to limit the amount of sugar you consume, pay particular attention to the Daily Intake section. Ideally foods would be less than 5%.


Carbohydrates are an important part of you diet. They are found in bread, fruit, vegetables and grain products and used by the body for energy. Whilst it’s important not to over indulge in carbs, a certain amount of carbohydrate is an important part of nutrition.

Low and High GI

GI refers to the glycaemic Index, which is how quickly the carbohydrate is digested and absorbed into the blood. Foods with a low GI are absorbed slowly by the body whilst foods with a high GI are absorbed quickly by the body. Foods tend to list low GI as a benefit as it keeps you feeling fuller for longer and provides the body with a continuous supply of energy.

Low GI foods

  • Wholegrains
  • Nuts
  • Oats

High GI foods

  • Processed foods
  • White bread
  • Sugary cereals

So next time you are at the grocery store, make sure you read the label before buying.

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