How To Read And Understand Food Labels | Blog | THE BOD

How To Read & Understand Food Labels

Do you sometimes find food labels confusing or misleading?

Knowing what nutrition information to look for can be confusing, so we’ve rounded up some tips on how to read food labels so that you can differentiate between mislabeled junk and truly healthy foods.

Here are a few things to try and look for when reading the nutrition panels of packaged foods:

  • Nutrition Information Panel

The Nutrition Information Panel on a food label offers the simplest and easiest way to choose foods with less saturated fat, salt (sodium), added sugars and kilojoules, and more fibre. It can also be used to decide how large one serve of a food group choice or discretionary food would be and whether it’s worth the kilojoules. This is particularly important if you are trying to lose weight.

  • Calories Per Serve

Try to always opt to look at the measurements per 100g, that way it is a generic figure no matter what the product is. A lot of companies try and trick consumers by saying that there is a lot of servings per item, meaning less calories. However it would mean only a mouthful per serve, not the serving size you would actually consume per serve.

  • Sugar Content

We would recommend you try and stick to less than 10-15grams of sugar per day. 1 teaspoon of sugar is 4 grams.  There are a few Australian recommendations that say no more than 6-8 teaspoons of added sugars each day, that is 16-32 grams per day of sweeteners. However, this doesn't take into account sugars that are naturally occurring in fruits and vegetables. Be wary of words in nutritional panels like sucrose, glucose, corn syrup, fructose, cane sugar and even fruit juice concentrate! These are all words for SUGAR.

  • Fat Content

Saturated fat and trans fat will both come underneath the banner of fats. Saturated fats are the kind of fats that come from eggs, meat and dairy. While saturated fats pop up in these everyday common foods, too much saturated fats can lead to health issues. To keep your saturated fats to a minimum, consume a small amount of dairy and stick to lean cuts of meat. Trans fats are the fats you want to avoid that come from cakes, pastries, etc. Trans fats raise the risk of heat-related diseases. Monounsaturated and Polyunsaturated Fats tend to lower your blood cholesterol and have a better impact on your body. You can find these fats in things like olive oil and avocado.

  • Serving Sizes

Watch out for serving sizes - you can often get caught out here! Nutrition labels state how many calories and nutrients are in a standard amount of the product — often a suggested single serving.

However, these serving sizes are frequently much smaller than what people consume in one sitting.

For example, one serving may be half a can of soda, a quarter of a cookie, half a chocolate bar, or a single biscuit.

In doing so, manufacturers try to deceive consumers into thinking that the food has fewer calories and less sugar.

  • Ingredients List

All ingredients in a food product must be listed on the label in order, from largest to smallest by weight. You can use this to spot foods that might be high in saturated fat, added salt or added sugars because these ingredients are listed in the top three. Also look out for other words on the ingredients list that flag ingredients high in saturated fat, added salt or added sugars.

  • Nutrition Claims

Health claims on packaged food are designed to catch your attention and convince you that the product is healthy. Sometimes labels will include nutrition content claims like ‘low fat’, ‘reduced salt’ or ‘high fibre’.

Here are some of the most common claims — and what they mean:

  • Light. Light products are processed to reduce either calories or fat. Some products are simply watered down. Check carefully to see if anything has been added instead — like sugar.
  • Multigrain. This sounds very healthy but only means that a product contains more than one type of grain. These are most likely refined grains — unless the product is marked as whole grain.
  • Natural. This does not necessarily mean that the product resembles anything natural. It simply indicates that at one point the manufacturer worked with a natural source like apples or rice.
  • Organic. This label says very little about whether a product is healthy. For example, organic sugar is still sugar.
  • Low-calorie. Low-calorie products have to have one-third fewer calories than the brand’s original product. Yet, one brand’s low-calorie version may have similar calories as another brand’s original.
  • Low-fat. This label usually means that the fat has been reduced at the cost of adding more sugar. Be very careful and read the ingredients list.
  • Gluten-free. Gluten-free doesn’t mean healthy. The product simply doesn’t contain wheat, spelt, rye, or barley. Many gluten-free foods are highly processed and loaded with unhealthy fats and sugar.
  • Health Star Rating

The HSR on the front of food packages provides an at-a-glance overall rating of the healthiness of the food product (reflected as a star rating), as well as specific nutrient and energy information. The more stars, the healthier the choice.

Generally, the HSR will provide the most useful source of comparison between similar food products (e.g. comparing packaged breakfast cereals). Where the nutrient icons are also displayed, they will provide information about the energy content of a product, as well as the levels of saturated fat, sodium (salt) and sugars, to help you make the best choice to suit your personal circumstances.


After you begin reading labels and taking a more active part in your healthy and diet you will become more familiar with what you are looking for on the labels. You will also be able to gauge what is a high content and a low content fairly quickly. A great example is canned tomatoes, there are so many to choose from, however some cans contain as much as 13.6grams of sugar per serve versus a can with NO added sugars or salts.

It really is all about choice, education and making the first step in the right direction for your family and your own health. Know your foods and learn what you are eating!  


*Information within this blog was sourced from the FDA. Healthline and Heart Org website.




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