How to read a food label

Reading a food label can be difficult and a bit overwhelming. The writing is small, it’s all cramped in together and there are a lot of numbers. Have a look below for a simple label reading guide.

Deciphering ingredients list:

  • Ingredients are listed in order of proportion, the first ingredient has the highest proportion in terms of weight. Therefore if fat or sugar is listed in the first 3 ingredients, it’s an indicator it’s a high added fat or sugar ingredient. If you are looking for a low fat or sugar product, this isn’t going to be it.

  • Fat can be listed under many names: Animal fat/oil, beef fat, butter, chocolate, milk solids, palm oil, coconut, coconut oil/milk/cream, copha, cream, dripping, lard, suet, sour cream, ghee, vegetable shortening.

  • Sugar can be listed under many names: Dextrose, lactose, glucose, fructose, golden syrup, honey, maple syrup, sucrose, malt, maltose, brown sugar, caster sugar, maple syrup, raw sugar, sucrose.

  • Salt can be listed under many names: Baking powder, garlic salt, meat/yeast extract, stock cubes, sodium nitrate/nitrite, monosodium glutamate, (MSG), onion salt, rock salt, sodium, sodium ascorbate, sodium bicarbonate, vegetable salt, sea salt

When reading a nutrition information panel:

  • When comparing products, look at the per 100g column

  • Look at the 4 most important components - fat, sugar, fibre and sodium
    Fat <10g/100g is ok, <3g/100g is low fat*
    Sugar <10g/100g is ok, <5g/100g is good
    Fibre >3g fibre/100g is ok, >6g/100g is good
    Sodium <400mg/100g is ok, <120mg/100g is low salt*

    *These are governed by our food standards code. For products to have a low salt or low sugar label it must abide by these rules.  

  • There are a few exceptions to the rules, for example if a product contains majority fruit, the sugar will be higher and <15g/100g is appropriate, same for nuts if the product contains a high proportion of nuts <15g/100g is appropriate. In addition to this some product won't contain much fibre for example yoghurt or dairy products. For this reason, please don't be too strict, if you can get 3 out of 4 of the guidelines you're doing well. 

Click here for a simple download of the above