How to read nutrition labels
- Pay attention to the serving sizes listed on the label.
- Convert the numbers on the label to percentages.
- Learn how to translate calories to kilojoules.
- Understand what ‘daily recommendation’ means.
- Be aware of any redundant claims.
Learning how to read nutrition labels is a great way to become more informed about the foods you’re eating. Whether you’re trying to count your macros or just curious about the nutritional value of your snack, the nutrition label has a lot of great information.
Eat for Health has a great infographic that explains Australian nutrition labels, but we also wanted to point out some other things to look out for.
Pay attention to serving size
Before you can really understand how many kilojoules, calories or grams your snack is packing, it’s a good idea to understand how big the serving size is.
Often, a small packet of chips or chocolate bar will claim that there are two servings in the packet. So, if you (like, let’s face it, most of us) are planning to eat the whole thing, you might think you’re only getting half the energy you’re actually eating.
Think in percentages
Some foods weigh a lot, while others are quite light. Some foods are eaten in handfuls, while others are eaten in spoonfuls.
A good way to compare the nutritional value of different foods is to pay attention to the column on the nutrition label that tells you about the content per 100 grams. That way, you can easily convert it to percentages in your head (or with your calculator).
For example, if a muesli bar had 50 grams of total sugar per 100 grams, that makes it 50 percent sugar. That is quite a high percentage of sugar, so you can then make an informed choice. Do you follow?
Learn how to translate kilojoules to calories
If you want to pay a bit more attention to what you’re eating, it’s a great idea to learn the language it’s written in. One calorie is equal to 4.184 kilojoules.
Luckily, it's relatively simple to divide or multiply by four. So, you can round it down and do the maths pretty quickly. And if not, technology is your friend.
What’s a daily recommendation?
You may see the phrase ‘x percent of your daily recommended intake’ on your snack’s nutrition label. What does that mean?
Basically, it’s there to tell you how much of your daily allowance this snack is taking up of that particular nutrient.
So, if your edamame snack has 25% of your daily recommended protein intake, you’re a quarter of the way to eating the right amount of protein for the day.
It’s important to be aware, though, these amounts are based on a so-called ‘average’ person. So maybe take them with a grain of salt.
Be aware of any redundant claims
Have you ever seen a packet of strawberry licorice that says ‘fat free’? To the untrained eye, that may seem like a health win. Unfortunately, this is a bit of a redundant claim.
Yes, it’s factually correct… Also, of course, there’s no fat in licorice, but there’s no meat either – or pineapples for that point. It’s a marketing strategy and it (usually) means nothing in terms of healthier eating choices.
So, just be aware of it when you are reading the nutrition labels on your snacks.
*If there are pineapples in your licorice, you’re doing licorice wrong and we can’t help you.
Reviewed by the healthylife Advisory Board September 2021.