Understanding food labels 101


To understand the food label of a product and be able to distinguish between unhealthy and healthier options is one of the best ways to make sure that you and your family are buying and enjoying healthy food and drinks. Making a habit of always reading food labels and understanding what they mean will soon become second-nature with this 2-step guide below.

1. Read the Nutrition Information table

This table can help you to decide if a product is a healthy option or not as it lists how much of each nutrient it contains. All nutrients are listed in two columns – per 100g and per serving. The 100g column is great to use to easily compare similar products because serving sizes may differ, this w

ay you are comparing apples-for-apples. The “per serving” column tells you how much of each nutrient and energy (kilojoules) you’ll consume if you consume that suggested serving. Be careful here because the “suggested serving” is not always the same as the packaging size – for example, the suggested serving on a 500ml bottle of sugary drink is often only around 250ml, half of the packaging size. 

Use the table below to decide if the food is high or low in fat, saturated fat, sugar and sodium (salt). Foods in the ‘low’ group can be eaten more often, but foods in the ‘high’ group should rarely be eaten or only on special occasions.





2. Read the list of ingredients

Ingredients are always listed in order of weight, where the ingredients used in the greatest amounts are listed first, followed by those used in smaller amounts. Often the first three ingredients listed on the label make up the largest portion of the food item. Look out for sugar, salt and bad fats which may often be listed under different names. Below are some sneaky words to look out for:

  • Sugar

Brown sugar, concentrated fruit juice, corn syrup, dextrose, treacle, fructose, glucose, glucose syrup, golden syrup, honey, invert sugar, lactose, malt, malt extract, maltose, isomaltose, maltodextrin, maple syrup, molasses, raw sugar, sucrose, sugar, cane sugar.

  • Bad fats

Animal fat, beef fat, butter, chocolate, carob, coconut oil, cream, dripping, ghee, hydrogenated oils, lard, margarine, milk solids, monoglycerides, palm oil, seeds, nuts, coconut, tallow, shortening, trans fats, vegetable fat.

  • Salt

Baking soda, salt, MSG (monosodium glutamate), any word containing the term sodium, nitrates, nitrites.


 3. Look out for the Heart Mark

The Heart Mark makes shopping easier by helping you to identify healthier products on the shelves. Look out for products that carry the Heart Mark endorsement logo. These are healthier choices because they contain less sugar, unhealthy fats and salt, and they may be higher in dietary fibre 



compared to other similar products. Find out which products hold the Heart Mark endorsement here




  • Total sugar

Total sugar includes sugar that is naturally found in the food, such as lactose which is milk sugar found in dairy products, plus sugar that has been added by the manufacturers. Either way, the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends limiting all free sugar to no more than 10% of total energy intake and no more than 5% per day would provide additional health benefits. 5% of total energy would be roughly 25g or 6 teaspoons of sugar, depending on your age, gender and activity levels.


  • Dietary fibre

Dietary fibre has numerous health benefits. It can help to reduce the risk of heart diseases, diabetes, certain type of cancers, and help with weight and appetite control. The recommended daily intake is 25g for women and 38g for men. Aim for 3g or more per serving on a food label and always include high fibre food items on your shopping list such as whole-wheat pasta, brown rice, lentils, beans, fruit and vegetables.


  • Saturated fat

Eating a large amount of saturated fat is linked to an increased risk of heart disease and strokes and it can increase your blood cholesterol levels. Limit your saturated fat intake to ideally less than 3g per serving and rather opt for products that contain heart-healthy poly- and mono-unsaturated fats.


  • Sodium

Eating too much sodium or salt can raise your blood pressure and increase your risk of developing heart disease or having a stroke. It is recommended to eat no more than 5g or 1 tsp of salt per day, which is the same as 2000 mg of sodium. The sodium content can be surprisingly high on many products so make it a habit to always look out for this on food labels, even ones that don’t taste salty.


  • Vitamins and minerals

Vitamins and minerals are micronutrients (nutrients needed in small amounts) but are extremely important to all bodily functions and processes. Have a look at the “% NRV” column on the food label, to see how much of your daily requirement you are getting from one serving.