Reading food labels

Food labels can help you when looking for healthy food options, however words on the front of the pack often focus on the positive features of the product and doesn’t give the whole picture of what’s in the food.

Knowing what to look for can help.

Health Star Rating

The star ratings are designed to provide shoppers with convenient and easy-to-understand nutrition information on the front of packaged food. The system rates the overall nutritional profile of packaged food and assigns it a rating from ½ star to 5 stars, with more stars representing the healthier choice.  Find out more.

Ingredients list

All manufactured foods sold in Australia must display an ingredients list on their packaging. The ingredients are listed in descending order of weight e.g. the first ingredient listed on the product makes up the largest amount. Choose products with short lists and ingredients that sound like real food.

Nutrition information panel

All manufactured foods sold in Australia must display a nutrition information panel.  Nutrition information panels include the amount of energy (kilojoules or kJ), protein, fat, saturated fat, carbohydrate, sugars and sodium in the food.

Other nutrient information may be displayed (e.g. the amount of fibre).

The column showing per 100 grams can be used to compare similar products. For example, you might want to look for the product with the least sodium or sugar.

Nutrition content and health claims

Nutrition content claims such as ‘high fibre’ and ‘low fat’ are allowed to be made on a product when the manufacturer can prove that the claim is true. Consumers need to be very careful with these types of claims as they may not tell the whole story. For example, products with ‘low fat’ claims could still be high in energy (kilojoules), sugars or salt.

Food manufacturers may make specific health claims about the nutritional content of their foods only if they are supported by sound evidence and meet specific nutrient criteria set by the food standard. Health claims are not permitted on foods high in saturated fat, sugars or salt. Examples of health claims include ‘calcium for healthy bones and teeth’ and ‘phytosterols may reduce blood cholesterol’.

Claims on foods need to be read very carefully and always in the context of the ingredients list and nutrition information panel; look at the Health Star Rating if the product has one.

For more information on food labels, nutrition content and health claims, visit Food Standards Australia and New Zealand (FSANZ).

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