UNDERSTANDING FOOD LABELS

Food labels provide food safety information (e.g. use by dates) and also tell you what nutrients are in the food. Food labelling laws require all manufactured foods to include a nutrition information panel.

You will find the following information on food labels:

  • Product name

  • Brand name

  • Ingredient list

  • Nutrition information panel

  • Use by date

  • Manufacturer details

  • Product weight.

You might also find on your food labels:

  • Nutrition content claims or health claims

  • Allergen information

  • Percentage Daily Intake (%DI)

  • Other symbols e.g. Glycaemic Index (GI), Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) free, Gluten Free (GF), Health Star Rating.

FOOD LABELLING LAWS 

Food Standards Australia and New Zealand (FSANZ) develop the food labelling laws and local State and Territory agencies enforce these laws. There are also fair trading laws that require labels to be truthful. The laws and regulations aim to make it easier for people to make decisions about the nutritional value of the food they buy and eat.

CLAIMS

Nutrition content claims or health claims may also appear on the package to promote foods as being ‘healthy’. If claims are made, information needs to be declared in the ingredient list and nutrient information panel to support the claims.

INGREDIENT LISTING

Ingredients are listed in descending order of quantity, meaning that the first ingredient is the main ingredient in the food and the last ingredient is the smallest by weight. Checking the order of ingredients can give you valuable information about the food. Food additives are included on the ingredient list and may be listed by name or by an approved numbering system.

 

Our Accredited Practising Dietitian (APD), Kristie Pieters, can provide advice and information on how to read and understand food labels.

Image source: Diabetes Queensland

HOW ARE FOOD PRODUCTS REGULATED IN AUSTRALIA?

Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) is responsible for setting food Standards in Australia and New Zealand and is part of the Australian Government Health and Ageing portfolio.

FSANZ works to:

  • Protect public health and safety

  • Provide information to enable consumers to make informed food choices

  • Prevent misleading or deceptive conduct.

 

The Food Standards Code regulates the safety of food sold in Australia and New Zealand.

The Food Standards Code specifically regulates:

  • The type and amount of information on food labels

  • The composition of food

  • Food safety.

 

Implementation and enforcement of food standards is the responsibility of local and state governments.

WHAT ARE HEALTH CLAIMS AND WHAT DO THEY MEAN?

Nutrition content claims and health claims are voluntary statements made by food companies. These claims can appear on food labels and in advertising. These claims may refer to the nutritional content of the food (these are nutrition content claims) or they may refer to a relationship between food, or a property of food, and a health effect (these are health claims).

 

WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR ME?

Nutrition content claims These claims are about a certain nutrient or substance either being, or not being in a food, for example:  ‘This food is high in calcium. These claims must meet certain criteria set out by the Food Standards Code

General level health claims These are claims about something in a food and how it can affect your health, for example: ‘Fibre helps keep you regular ’. These types of claims cannot be used for serious diseases e.g. heart disease or to indicators of a serious disease e.g. cholesterol. There is a list of general level health claims companies can use. A company can use a general level health claim not listed in the Standard but they will need to support their claim with scientific evidence.

High level health claims These are claims about something in a food and how it can affect a serious disease or indicator of a serious disease, for example: ‘This food is low in sodium (salt). A diet low in sodium may help reduce blood pressure. Only pre-approved ‘food-health relationships’ for high level health claims are allowed to be made. All health claims must be supported by scientific evidence and will only be allowed if the food meets the Nutrient Profiling Scoring Calculator (NPSC). For example, foods high in saturated fat, sugar and salt are not allowed to carry a health claim 1.

Remember, some of the healthiest foods may not have labels or health claims (e.g. fresh fruit and vegetables, nuts, lentils, beans, fresh meat and fish).

For more information about nutrition and health claims, visit the FSANZ website.

If health claims are confusing and you’re not sure if a food can be included in your diet, make an appointment with our Accredited Practicing Dietitian, Kristie Pieters, for expert advice on choosing foods that are right for you.

MAKING SENSE OF GLYCEMIC INDEX

The Glycaemic Index (GI) is a ranking between zero and 100 given to foods describing how quickly the carbohydrate in a food is digested and absorbed into the blood.

Carbohydrates are an important energy source for the body and carbohydrate-containing foods are an important part of a healthy diet, containing many essential nutrients and fibre. Choosing high quality carbohydrate foods in the correct amount is the challenge for many Australians.

Carbohydrate foods that are quickly digested and absorbed into the blood stream have a high GI (more than 55) whilst those which are slowly digested and absorbed have a low GI (less than 55).

Low GI foods include:

  • Wholegrain bread

  • Pasta

  • Oats

  • Apples, apricots and oranges

  • Yoghurt and milk

  • Dried beans and lentils.

 

High GI foods include:

  • White and wholemeal bread

  • Processed cereals

  • Short-grain rice

  • Potato

  • Most cracker biscuits

  • Watermelon.

 

Eating low GI foods may:

  • Help to keep hunger at bay for longer after eating

  • Provide a gradual, continuous supply of energy from one meal to the next

  • Reduce insulin levels and insulin resistance.

  • Help to keep blood glucose levels stable in those with diabetes, by providing a slower, more sustained release of glucose into the bloodstream.

 

Both high GI and low GI foods can be included in a healthy diet.

WHAT DOES LOW FAT MEAN?

Nutrient claims such as ‘low fat’ are often used by food manufacturers to point out the nutrition benefits of their product.

Manufacturers who use this claim have to make sure the product meets strict criteria before they are allowed to print ‘low in fat’ on the food label.

A ‘low fat’ or ‘low in fat’ food must contain no more than 3g of fat per 100g of food.  A liquid must contain no more than 1.5g fat per 100g.

‘Reduced fat’ means the food must contain at least 25 percent less fat than the regular product to which it is being compared, and at least 3g less fat per 100g of food.

This means that a product can still be relatively high in fat, but still be labelled ‘reduced fat’.

WHAT DOES LOW SALT MEAN?

Nutrient claims such as ‘low salt’ are often used by food manufacturers to provide a point of difference with their product over others.

Manufacturers who use this claim have to make sure the product meets strict criteria before they are allowed to print ‘low salt’ on the food label.

A ‘low salt/sodium’ or ‘low in salt/sodium’ nutrient claim can only be placed on the label if the food contains no more than 120mg sodium per 100g.

Like with ‘fat reduced’, ‘salt reduced’ is a claim made in comparison with a product of the same type produced by the same manufacturer.

 

*The information in this article has been republished with permission by the Dietitians Association of Australia.

Courtney Mallet Exercise Physiologist Gympie

KRISTIE PIETERS

Accredited Practicing Dietitian

Available on the Sunshine Coast and Cooloola Coast

Our Accredited Practising Dietitian (APD), Kristie Pieters, can help you to understand food labels and how to use them to choose foods which are right for you and your family.