To help you understand all that complicated lingo on the back of food packaging, the team here at Exact Physiology have put together this easy to understand information so that you can learn to read food labels.
This will allow you to make
Kilojoules vs. Calories
Often food packages list foods in kilojoules or calories, where 1 Cal (calorie) = 4.2kJ (kilojoules). For example, if a muesli bar is listed as containing 110 cal, this equals around 462 kJ. Calories used to be used more commonly as it is an imperial measurement, however, kilojoules is a metric measurement and is more common now. Try to use whichever makes more sense to you!
What details are included on a food label?
On the back of food packaging, you will see a food label. The food label includes the following components:
- Serving Size
- Number of Serves per package
- Nutrients within the listed serving size and per 100g:
- Energy (kilojoules/calories)
- Total fat and Saturated fat
- Total Carbohydrate and Sugars
- Sodium (Salt)
- Fibre (may not always be present)
- Warning about the presence of food allergens e.g. nuts, gluten, milk etc.
Nutrition Claims and Meanings
On many food packages the manufacturer will inlcude various nutrition claims. These are regulated by Food Standards Australia and New Zealand to make sure all products are correct. Common nutrition claims and their meanings have been listed below:
|Low Fat||The product contains less than 3g of fat per 100g|
|Diet||The product has been artificially sweetened|
|Reduced Fat / Salt||The product contains at least 25% less fat or salt compared to the regular product|
|Light or Lite||Often used to describe the product’s texture, colour or flavour. The product does not necessarily contain less fat or sugar|
|No Added Sugar||The product has had NO sugar added to it during productionThe product could still be high in naturally occurring sugars (eg. dried fruit or fruit juice)|
|All Natural||Indicates that the product contains no artifical colours, flavours or preservatives. The product may still be high in fat, sugar and/or salt|
How many kilojoules should I be eating?
Generally, the average adult’s daily requirement is 8700kJ. However, this varies depending on gender, age, activity levels, and pregnancy. Try this daily energy needs calculator – it’s super easy to use!
What is %RDI?
RDI stands for ‘Recommended Daily Intake’. As per the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC), RDI is the level of intake of essential nutrients recommended for consumption to be adequate to meet the known nutritional requirements of healthy individuals.
The RDI has been created based on scientific evidence. For example, if the energy content of a given food is 870 kJ, this represents 10% of your recommended daily intake of 8700kJ. The remaining 90% can come from other foods and fluid you consume throughout the day.
What is a Glycemic Index
This refers to the speed at which carbohydrates are broken down in the body and release glucose into the bloodstream during digestion.
Low GI foods are carbohydrates include some fruit and vegetables, whole grains and dairy foods. In summary, Low GI Foods are carbohydrates breakdown slowly which means that they release glucose at a steady rate keeping blood sugar levels stable (keeping you fuller for longer).
These are foods that breakdown quickly which means they will create a sudden spike in your blood sugar levels.
High GI foods will not keep you feeling full as long as lower GI options. Try to limit your consumption of high GI foods such as most white rice and white bread.
Any carbohydrates that are released too quickly into the blood and not used for energy are more than likely to be taken and stored as fat… Not what we want!
LowGI = <55
Medium GI = 56-69
High GI = 70+
Reading the nutrition labels
Take note of how many grams of Fat, Carbohydrate, Fibre and Protein are in the product. The quantity per 100g column is best when comparing similar products due to variances in serving sizes.
|Energy Source||Kilojoules (kJ)|
|1g Dietary fibre||8|
The manufacturer will always list:
- Amount of nutrients per 100g of the product
- Amount of nutrients in an average serve of the product
Barein mind that serving sizes vary from product to product, so look at how much of a serveis listed on the panel and check if this is how much of the food you’d normally eat
When comparing 2 different products it is easiest to refer to the “per 100g” column.Amanda Percy, Director of Exact Physiology
these are listed in descending order by weight so make sure sugar is not in the first 3-4 ingredients listed.
The manufacturer may try to disguise fat, salt and sugar in the ingredient listing by using other names, watch out for the following:
- Fats = vegetable oil, animal fat, lard, coconut oil, whole milk solids, copha, butter, cream, coconut, hydrogenated oils, margarine, palm oil, dripping, sour cream, beef fat
- Sugar = anything ending is “ose” – sucrose, glucose, fructose, lactose, dextrose. Other words include: golden syrup, honey, malt, molasses, brown sugar, concentrated fruit juice, corn syrup, mannitol, raw sugar
- Salt = rock salt, vegetable salt, baking soda, baking powder, sodium bicarbonate, MSG and yeast extract, mineral salts, celery/garlic salt, glutamate, stock
It is important to get the right balance of each of the macronutrients in your diet . Macronutrients include carbohydrates, fats and protein. Are you aware of how much you need of each?
Note: these will change depending on your individual needs, gender and age. However as a general guide the following recommendations are for an average adult.
|Nutrient||Daily Requirement||Requirement as % of RDI||Function|
|Energy||Males = ~10 450kJ|
Females = ~8 360kJ
|Protein||~50g||15-20%||Protein is used to build and repair muscle, blood, organs, nerves, skin, hair and the brain|
|Fat||~70g||<30%||Fat absorbs and transports fat soluble vitamins around your body. Excessive fat increases the risk of heart disease, breast/ colon/ and prostate cancer|
|Carbohydrate||~310g||50-60%||Provides energy for cellular processes such as breathing and heart pumping as well as for activities and exercise|
|Sugars||<90g||<25%||Excessive sugar intake can suppress the immune system making you more vulnerable to toxins, bacteria and viruses|
|Sodium||1200-2300mg||Too much sodium increases the risk of high blood pressure, which leads to increased risk of heart disease, kidney disease and stroke|
|Fibre||25-30g||Reduces the risk of colon cancer and prevents intestinal problems and infection|
|Saturated Fat||<24g Included in your 70g fat NOT in addition to||Excessive consumption increases risk of cardiovascular disease|
|Cholesterol||As low as possible||Required for the production of vitamin D, absorption of fat from intestines and production of important hormones. Excessive intake reduces cardiovascular health|
|Transfatty acids||As low as possible (2g max daily)||Associations with heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and other chronic conditions|
The information above is to be used a guide only and figures are representative of a healthy individual.
If you have medical conditions which may require specific information please speak with your GP or make an appointment with our wonderful Dietitian.
Source: Nutrition Education Materials Online (NEMO) – Reading Food Labels