Use the nutrition information label (also called a nutrition information panel), which can be found on the packaging of almost all manufactured foods, to help you make more informed choices about the food that you eat. This one is from a box of apricot-flavoured muesli bars.
Servings per package: 8
|.||Quantity per serving||Quantity per 100g|
|Energy||350 kJ||1770 kJ|
|Protein||1.5 g||7.7 g|
|Fat, total||2.1 g||10.4 g|
|— saturated||0.3 g||1.4 g|
|Carbohydrates||14.2 g||70.8 g|
|— sugars||4.5 g||22.7 g|
|Sodium||60 mg||305 mg|
|Dietary fibre||1.2 g||6.0 g|
Contains oats, wheat and soy as indicated in bold type.
Ingredients: rolled oats, sugar, puffed rice, wheat, apricot pieces (8%) [sugar, water, apricot concentrate, dextrose, colour (160(b)), vegetable gum (401), food acid (331), flavour, preservative (202)], glucose syrup, vegetable oil, tapioca starch, salt, emulsifier (soy lecithin), flavour.
Product processed on a line that also processes products containing tree nuts.
The nutrition label displays the quantity of energy (measured in kilojoules) found in both a serving and in 100 grams (or 100 millilitres if liquid) of the product. Serving sizes are based on how much of a particular food people usually eat.
You can use the ‘quantity per serve’ information to keep track of what you’re eating, and it’s especially useful if you are monitoring your daily intake of kilojoules or certain nutrients. The ‘quantity per 100 g’ information is useful if you want to compare 2 similar products, because serving sizes may vary depending on the manufacturer.
If you are trying to lose weight, you should pay particular attention to the amount of fat, sugar and kilojoules on the nutrition label. Foods that are high in fat and sugar tend to be high in kilojoules.
It’s also important to look on the label for the amount of saturated fat, which is listed separately from total fat. This type of fat is particularly bad for your health — a diet that is high in saturated fat can raise your blood cholesterol level and increase your risk of heart disease.
Trans fat is another type of fat that is bad for your heart health. Trans fat can increase the amount of ‘bad’ cholesterol in your blood, and reduce your levels of ‘good’ cholesterol — leading to an overall increase in your total blood cholesterol. Currently, it’s not mandatory for the amount of trans fat in food to be listed on food labels.
The amount of sodium tells you how much salt is in the food. Foods that are described as low in salt must have less than 120 milligrams of sodium per 100 g (or 100 mL for liquids). The salt content is especially important information for people with high blood pressure, because a low-salt diet is often recommended as part of the treatment for this condition.
Other nutrients, such as dietary fibre, calcium or iron, will also be listed on the nutrition panel if a claim is made about them.
The ingredients are listed in descending order according to their weight at the time the product was manufactured. If water makes up more than 5 per cent of the final product, it must also be listed as an ingredient.
The amount of the key, or characterising, ingredient — the ingredient usually mentioned in the name of the product (e.g. apricots in an apricot muesli bar) — must be listed with a percentage indicating how much of the product consists of that ingredient. In some products, such as plain bread, there are no key ingredients.
Natural or synthetic food additives must also be identified no matter how small the amount used. Food additives must be listed by both their name and a number (e.g. food acid (331)), so that people who are sensitive to additives can avoid them.
Any ingredient that is known to cause severe allergic reactions in some people (e.g. nuts, seafood, milk, eggs, soybeans) must be declared on the label, even if there is only a very small amount of that ingredient in the product. Some food labels must also contain an advisory or warning statement if the food contains a substance that has associated health risks that people may not be aware of (e.g. the bee product, royal jelly, which can cause severe reactions in people with asthma).
Many manufacturers also voluntarily print a warning that there may be traces of some allergens in the food, even if they are not listed in the ingredients. This is usually because those allergens are used in other products made in the same factory.
Any genetically modified foods or ingredients must be identified on the label with the words 'genetically modified'. Also, any foods that have been irradiated must be identified.
Food packaging may also display a symbol or stamp from an organisation to highlight particular nutritional information.
Foods that have a Heart Foundation ‘Tick’ on their label are healthier and generally lower in saturated fat and sodium than other foods in the same category.
Foods displaying a ‘Glycemic Index (GI) Tested’ symbol on their packaging have been evaluated for their effects on blood sugar levels. Foods that have a low glycemic (or 'glycaemic') index (GI) tend to raise your blood sugar levels less than medium or high-GI foods, and eating these low-GI foods can help control diabetes and may help with weight loss. All foods that display this symbol (whether they are low, medium or high GI) are generally a good nutritional choice for that food group.
There are some descriptions that can be misleading, so you should always check that claims that are made about foods are backed up by the information in the nutrition panel.
‘Use by’ dates are displayed on packaged foods that must be consumed before a certain date for health and safety reasons. It is not safe to eat such foods once the use-by date has passed. A ‘best before’ date can be found on products with a shelf life of less than 2 years; after this date, the product may lose some of its nutritional value or quality, but it may still be safe to eat.
The packaging should also display information on how to store the product if specific storage conditions are required so that the product will remain safe until its use-by or best-before date (e.g. store in a cool, dry place).
Manufacturers are not required to display a nutrition information label on some foods, including:
And remember that many healthy foods — including fresh fruit and vegetables — are among those that are not labelled.
Last Reviewed: 29 October 2009