While most of us don’t have time to cook everything from scratch, learning to read food labels allows you to see clearly what is a healthier choice. My ultimate aim as a paediatric nutritionist is to help you navigate the Australian supermarket shelves to ensure you choose the most wholesome options available, free of the nasties that are present in many foods.
How do you read a food label?
Identifying hidden nasties in store bought products is something I go into a great deal of depth in my book. My advice for reading food labels is to look at the ‘per 100g’ values, as ‘per serve’ can often be misleading if you’re likely to eat more than the suggested serving size. The ‘per 100g’ column is also the most useful for comparing products to assess their sugar, protein, sodium and fat content.
What you’ll see when you flip the back of your food packages, is that nutrition labels come in two parts – the ingredients list, which consists of all the ingredients in a product, and the nutritional panel, which gives you a breakdown of nutrient values.Becoming label savvy and understanding an ingredients list will help you know exactly what you’re putting in your body.
First things first, the ingredients are listed in descending order of weight, so put simply, the first listed ingredient makes up the most of that product. It’s good to look out for sugar, sodium or any ingredient that’s written as a number here, and if it’s high on the ingredients list, leave it on the shelf.
The main ingredient will usually have a percentage next to it, for example in sausages: Beef (65%). This is helpful as it allows you to compare products and look for a sausage that contains a higher percentage of beef (closer to 90%), which means less room for additives and fillers.
If the product contains added water, it must be listed in the ingredient list according to its ingoing weight, with an allowance made for any water lost during processing, e.g water lost as steam.