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Understanding nutritional information

May 20, 2022 3 min read

Understanding nutritional information

Reading food labels can be tricky and confusing, and more often than not, we don't have the time to sit around and decipher what they mean. However, by following these few strategies, you can grasp the ins and outs of nutritional label reading to make a more informed choice on products at the supermarket and also when purchasing select supplements.\


Labels generally are packaged following strict guidelines for food storage instructions or criteria for people with different allergies. While various types of information exist, it's essential to strip things back to make sense of all this information. Here are some tips to help make sense of nutritional panels and information.

  • Use the Australian guide to healthy eating to decide whether that product belongs to the five main food groups or is it primarily a discretionary item only to be eaten on special occasions and in small amounts.
  • When looking at the nutritional label, it's essential to consider the different columns and their meaning. Many of us make the common mistake of first reading the per serving column and jumping to conclusions. The main issue with this is that, unfortunately, not all products are made the same and often, serving sizes between products will vary subsequently. It's important to compare products on a level playing field.

This can be done by utilising the per 100g serving column. This column is a requirement and enables simple comparisons between products on different nutrients. When looking for the best option, try to avoid products with more than 10g of fat per 100g, less than 5g of fibre, more than 3g of saturated fat and more than 400mg of sodium.

  • The next strategy requires surveying the ingredients list to identify if any products contain added sugars or trans fats in the initial three ingredients. The ingredients in nutritional labels are ordered based on weight, and hence the main three ingredients in any product will make up the major component of that product. Try to look for complex carbohydrate sources, whole wheat or wholegrains or plant-based oils (olive oil, canola oil, flaxseed oil) as opposed to white flour, sugar or hydrogenated oils. To lose weight, we need to drink/eat fewer calories than our bodies use. Often these calories come from a combination of macronutrients, including fat, protein and carbohydrate. If oils or added sugars sit high on the ingredients list, it is a good chance the energy content for that product will be quite high.
  • The health star rating system provides convenient, relevant and readily understood nutritional information at a glance. Whilst it doesn't provide the breadth of information you would get from reading the nutritional panel completely. It does allow the ability to compare products at a glance.
  • Percentage recommended daily intakes (RDI's) is often an excellent way to compare the nutrients in one serve of food with the average adult's needs. Like nutritional claims, this information can guide the needs of individuals. However, some better strategies include consulting with an Accredited Dietitian to get more tailored dietary information or utilising apps like my fitness pal or calorie counter.

No matter what diet a person follows, understanding nutritional information is important in choosing healthy food. By looking at calories, carbs, protein, and fat content, it's easy to find enjoyable and good foods for you.

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