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Reading food labels
heartfoundation.org.au|Helpline 13 11 12

Reading food labels

Nutrition information panels and ingredients lists are a good way of comparing similar foods so you can choose the healthiest option.

Key takeaways

  • The quantity per 100g or ml column is best when comparing different brands of similar products.
  • When comparing products, look at the food as a whole, rather than deciding based on just one nutrient alone.
  • The ‘per serving’ value varies depending on the type of food and the brand. It doesn’t necessarily mean you eat the serve size specified on the pack. 
Almost all packaged foods are required to display a Nutrition Information Panel (NIP) on the packet. The information included on the NIP must meet government standards, so you can be sure that the information is reliable. 

Nutrition information panels and ingredients lists are a good way of comparing similar foods so you can choose the healthiest option.

How to read a food label



The first step is to find the nutrition information panel. It’s usually located on the back or side of the product packaging. Once you’ve found the nutrition information panel, the next step is to locate the ingredients – often they’re to the side or below the nutritional panel.

Nutrition information panels always list:

  • Energy (kilojoules)
  • Protein
  • Fat (total) 
  • Saturated fat 
  • Carbohydrate (total)
  • Sugars
  • Sodium
Other nutrients such as vitamins and minerals, fibre and other types of fat (unsaturated, trans, cholesterol) may also be listed.

Comparing products

When comparing products, look at the food as a whole, rather than deciding based on just one nutrient alone.
The quantity per 100g or ml column is best when comparing different brands of similar products.

The 'per serving' column can help you to understand the amount of nutrients you might be eating when you serve out that specific portion of the food.

It’s important to keep in mind that the ‘per serving’ value varies depending on the type of food and the brand. It doesn’t necessarily mean you eat the serve size specified on the pack. 

Fats

Use the per 100g or 100 ml column to compare similar products to choose the option with less saturated or trans fat – the unhealthy fats. Trans fat is often not listed on the nutrition information panel, which can make it hard to choose a healthy option.

Avoid foods with ‘partially hydrogenated’ vegetable oil or vegetable fat, animal fat, copha, palm oil and coconut oil listed in the ingredients list. For example, it is advisable to limit intake of foods like bakery goods such as sausage rolls, meat pies, cakes and biscuits. 


Learn more about adding healthy fats to your diet.

Sodium (salt)

When you read the Nutrition Information Panel (NIP), it’s important to remember that the salt content of the food product will be listed as ‘sodium’. 

To compare the sodium content of two similar products, you should read the “Per 100g” column of the NIP. 
To choose a ‘low salt’ food product, select one that has less than 120mg of sodium per 100g. 

Remember, eating too much sodium can put you at risk of developing high blood pressure and heart disease, which is why it’s important to know how to read the NIP so you can choose a lower sodium product.
Check the ingredient list for other names for salt, such as sodium, monosodium glutamate, and vegetable salt.

Read more about salt and heart health.

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