Summary

  • Ingredients are listed in order from those that are present in the greatest amount to those that are present in the smallest amount.
  • If fat or sugars are listed first or second in the ingredients list, the food is high in fat or sugar.
  • Fat and sugar might be also listed under different names.
  • The ‘per serve’ column on the nutritional information may not be the same serving size that you eat.
Labels on packaged food can give you useful information about the nutrition, ingredients, storage and weight of the food. Ingredients are listed in order from those that are present in the greatest amount to those present in the smallest amount. If fat or sugars are listed first or second in the ingredients list, the food is high in fat or sugar. Fat and sugar might be also listed under different names.

Food labels contain useful information

Food labels can be confusing, but they do contain useful information such as:
  • Nutrition information
  • Ingredients list
  • ‘Use by’ or ‘best before’ date
  • Storage information
  • Weight of the food.

Understanding the ingredients list on food

Ingredients are always listed in order, from the biggest to smallest amount. This means that if fat or sugar are listed first or second in the ingredients list, the food is high in fat or sugar.

There are many different names for the fat and sugar added to food that you should look out for on the ingredients list:
  • Fat may also be listed as oil, shortening, cocoa butter or cream.
  • Sugar may also be listed as glucose, sucrose, dextrose, lactose, maltose, maltodextrin, molasses, honey, golden syrup, fruit juice concentrate, corn syrup or maple syrup.

Understanding the nutrition information panel

The nutrition information panel tells us that these biscuits are too high in fat, saturated fat and sugar.

Using the ‘per 100 g’ column is the best way to compare different products. The food company decides what a ‘serve’ of their product is. The ‘per serve’ column may not be the same serving size that you eat.
The terms listed in the nutrition panel can be confusing. Some explanations include:

  • Energy – measured in kilojoules (kJ). If you eat too many kilojoules and don’t do enough physical activity, you will gain weight
  • Protein – important for growth and keeping muscles strong
  • Fat – choose dairy products that are labelled ‘low’ or ‘reduced fat’. Look for processed products that are less than 5 g per 100 g of total fat
  • Saturated fat – choose products that are less than 1.5 g per 100 g of saturated (bad) fat
  • Carbohydrate – provides the body and brain with energy
  • Sugars – compare and choose foods with the lowest amount of sugar. Check the ingredients list and choose foods that do not have added sugars
  • Fibre – helps you feel full for longer. Look for more than 3 g per 100 g
  • Sodium – choose products labelled ‘low’ or ‘reduced sodium’. Low-salt foods are those with less than 120 mg per 100 g of sodium.

Where to get help

  • Your doctor
  • Victorian Aboriginal Health Services Tel. (03) 9419 3000 or 132 660 (after hours)
  • Victorian Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation Tel. (03) 9411 9411
  • Dietitians Association of Australia Tel. 1800 812 942

Things to remember

  • Labels on packaged food can give you useful information about the nutrition, ingredients, storage and weight of the food.
  • Ingredients are listed in order from those that are present in the greatest amount to those that are present in the smallest amount.
  • If fat or sugars are listed first or second in the ingredients list, the food is high in fat or sugar.
  • Fat and sugar might be also listed under different names.
  • The ‘per serve’ column on the nutritional information may not be the same serving size that you eat.
References
  • Tucker talk tips – reading food labels, 2010, Tucker talk tips: healthy eating and physical activity tip sheets, Victorian Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation. More information here.
  • Koolin Balit: strategic directions, Strategic directions for Aboriginal health 2012–2022, Department of Health Victoria. More information here.

More information

Healthy eating

The following content is displayed as Tabs. Once you have activated a link navigate to the end of the list to view its associated content. The activated link is defined as Active Tab

Healthy eating basics

Food types

Health conditions and food

Food science and technology

Planning shopping and cooking

Food safety and storage

Dieting and diets

Nutritional needs throughout life

Content Partner

This page has been produced in consultation with and approved by: Department of Health and Human Services - MHW&A - Prevention and Population Health - Food and Nutrition

Last updated: April 2015

Page content currently being reviewed.

Content on this website is provided for education and information purposes only. Information about a therapy, service, product or treatment does not imply endorsement and is not intended to replace advice from your doctor or other registered health professional. Content has been prepared for Victorian residents and wider Australian audiences, and was accurate at the time of publication. Readers should note that, over time, currency and completeness of the information may change. All users are urged to always seek advice from a registered health care professional for diagnosis and answers to their medical questions.