Article - How food labels help you make healthier choices

How food labels help you make healthier choices

By law, packaged and manufactured food has to state the ingredients that are in it and have a nutrition information panel so you can compare different foods. That helps us make healthier choices. But manufacturers also have some tricks when it comes to food labelling that can leave you feeling confused. Wholekids has some of the traps to watch out for:

Packaging claims

Don’t let claims about a product being healthier or better for you - or lower in salt or sugar - fool you. Descriptions and claims on packaging can be misleading, so it’s a good idea to check the ingredient list and nutrition panel to verify any claims. We wish there was more greater transparency and honesty in food labelling and that’s something we’re campaigning for.

Some things to watch out for:

  • Foods that claim to be ‘lite’ or “lite’ may not be low in fat or kilojoules, but rather light in colour, taste, texture or appearance.
  • Low fat or reduced fat? Very low-fat foods must contain less than 0.15 percent fat. Low-fat solid foods must contain less than three grams of fat per 100 gram serve; low-fat liquid foods must contain less than 1.5 grams of fat per 100ml. And remember, if a food claims to be 90 percent fat-free, that food is actually 10 percent fat.
  • Extra vitamins and minerals? Check the percentage of recommended daily intake to see how much is really in there. Also, just because a package says ‘added niacin or vitamin C’ doesn’t mean the product is a healthy choice – some breakfast cereals make these claims but are loaded with sugar and sodium.


All ingredients in a food product must be, by law, listed on the label in descending order of weight. Even here, however, things are not always what they seem. Not all ingredients must be listed by their percentage weight. The amount of the key ingredient — the ingredient usually mentioned in the name of the product (e.g. apricots in an apricot muesli bar) — must be listed with a percentage indicating how much of the product consists of that ingredient. In some products, such as plain bread, there are no key ingredients.

We think food manufacturers should show the percentage by weight of all ingredients, not just the key one.

Deciphering ingredients can also be tricky. For example, a product may be made mostly of sugar, but a food manufacturer may use different terminology for ‘sugar’ so that sugar doesn’t appear as the first ingredient. Some other words for sugar include: brown-rice syrup, corn sweetener, corn syrup, corn syrup solids, dextrin, dextrose, fructose, glucose, high-fructose corn syrup, invert sugar, maltodextrin, malt syrup, maltose, molasses, raw sugar, rice syrup, sorbitol, sucrose and xylose.

Nutrition information panel

The nutrition information panel on a food label offers the simplest and easiest way to choose foods with less saturated fat, salt (sodium), added sugars and kilojoules, and more fibre.

A good resource can be found on the Australian Government’s Eat for Health website.

This article was originally published at Wholekids’ website. The business makes certified organic lunchbox snacks for kids.

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