Knowing how to read a food label is key to helping you make the right choices to reach your health and fitness goals.
So many people don’t think to read the food label, or simply don’t understand what to look for. Which is understandable – there’s a lot of information on there!
Let’s start with some basic general rules:
- If it says ‘lite’ or ‘low fat’ or ‘fat free’, then they have probably thrown in a heap of sugar and/or bad fats in to make it taste better.
- Artificial colours, flavours, preservatives, and sweeteners can be problematic for a lot of people. If there are numbers in the ingredients list, this probably means there’s something artificial in there.
So, here’s what to look out for:
- How many serves are there in one pack? Labels usually give an amount of sugar, fats, etc, per serve, and per 100g. The amount per serve may not look so bad until you realise there may be multiple serves in one pack! For example, a tub of yoghurt may have 6.4g of fat per serve. So you eat the whole tub. However, according to the label, that little tub was meant to be two serves for you. It means you’ve actually just had almost one tablespoon of sugar in one sitting.
- How much sugar is there per 100g? Consider that one tablespoon of sugar is about 15g. Also think about what percentage that sugar content is of the 100g. For example, if a product has 25g of sugar per 100g, that means one-quarter of the product is sugar! It also equates to about 1.5 tablespoons of sugar. That’s actually insane. You wouldn’t normally add a couple of tablespoons of sugar to your yoghurt at home, so why do we accept it in the tubs at the supermarket? The lower the number, the better. General rule – if it’s double digits, avoid it.
- Are there saturated fats? Food labels in Australia need to show not only the total amount of fat per serve and per 100g, they also need to show the saturated fat content. Basically, you want to aim for as low as possible. Anything more than 3g per 100g is not cool.
- What’s the protein content vs the fat and carbohydrate content? Remember that most people typically want a ratio of 40:30:30 when it comes to their proteins, carbohydrates, and fats. If the food you’re looking at has higher amounts of fats and/or carbohydrates than protein, then it may not fit the bill.
- What’s the calorie count? High calories = high energy = you need to do a lot of exercise. That’s the basics of it, at least. But those calories can be made up very differently – 100 calories could be almost all proteins or almost all carbohydrates, for example. So while the calorie count is important, think about where to calories are coming from as well.
This is a handy guide to understanding food labels from the Australian Government. Remember the rules for food labelling are different in every country, so if you’re reading this from outside of Oz make sure you Google your local regulations.