Understanding food labels to make better food choices (Part 1)

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Foods can tell you a lot about themselves.

So lets read and understand the label and find out more about the foods you are eating?

The first thing to know is about the ingredient list. All packaged foods must list all ingredients on the label in descending order of predominance by weight.

This means that the food contains more of the ingredients listed first; and less of those listed last.

This information itself already says a lot.

For instance, compare these products:

A cereal that contains “puffed milled corn, sugar, corn syrup, molasses, salt” versus one that contains “100 percent rolled oats”.

**Remember sugar can be described by many different names including sucrose, glucose, glucose syrup, fructose, glucose-fructose syrup, maltose, maltodextrin, invert sugar, golden syrup, maple syrup, molasses and honey.

**Fat can also go by many names for example: butter, dripping, lard, milk fat, cream, vegetable oil, vegetable fat, peanut oil (or other nut oil), monoglycerides, trans fats and hydrogenated fat.

The nutrition Panel

This is where you will find the information on the nutrient breakdown of a product.

Nutrients Quantities
The nutritional information tells you how much of each nutrient the food product contains per 100g, or per 100ml of fluid. It can also break this down per serving, for example per bar, per slice, per pot of yogurt.

Some food manufacturers list energy (Kjoules and kcal or calories) and three main nutrients – protein, carbohydrate/sugar (sugars’ indicates the amount of refined carbohydrate compared to complex carbohydrate – this should be less than 10g ) and fat. Fats may be broken down into saturated and unsaturated – choose products with a majority of unsaturated rather than saturated fat.

Others provide a more extended nutrient list that includes fibre, sodium and sometimes vitamins and/or minerals.

Recommended daily allowance (RDA)/ % Daily Value
The RDA is the recommended daily allowance – how much you need of any nutrient each day. If a vitamin or mineral is listed in the nutritional information, then the percentages of the RDA for that nutrient per 100g and per portion is also provided.

The RDA set adequacy standards for nutrients that are desirable in the diet, such as protein, vitamins, minerals and fiber; and it also set moderation standards for other nutrients that must be limited such as fat, saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium.

** Sodium is not the same as salt. Salt is sodium chloride so sodium is just one part of a molecule of salt. Here’s how you figure out salt from sodium:

Sodium x 2.5 = Salt content

Salt / 2.5 = Sodium content



Nutrition and Diet Therapy, DeBruyne, Pinna, Whitney. 8th Edition


Understanding food labels

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