A guide to food labels

Being able to easily check the nutrition content and ingredients of food is a top priority when you live with diabetes.  You should aim to eat more fresh food and less processed (wrapped) food as fresh has more nutrients and fibre. Sometimes eating packaged food is unavoidable. That’s when food labels can help you make the best choice.

A packaged food item’s Nutrition Information Panel gives you the facts about what is in that food.  When checking the nutrition information panel, pay careful attention to the ‘Avg. Quantity per 100g’ column, which will help you compare products.

When selecting packaged food, try to opt for products with:

  • lower energy (kilojoules) if you are trying to lose weight
  • lower total and saturated fat
  • lower sugar
  • lower sodium
  • higher fibre

Ingredients list records all food ingredients and additives in order from greatest to smallest amount by weight. Importantly, the ingredient list must declare if the product contains common allergens such as milk, eggs, nuts and gluten. It can also be used to determine the food source, like gluten from wheat flour.

Servings per package is how many portions the manufacturer states are in a serving of its food.

Serving size relates to the weight of a serve as stated by the manufacturer. As a result, some food products can have great variations in serve size between similar food products.

Per serve relates to the nutrients in one portion of the food product (based on what the manufacturer has stated is a serve under ‘Serving size’). It is important to compare your serve size with the manufacturers serving size and adjust the nutrients in this column accordingly.

Per 100g or 100ml relates to the nutrients in 100g or 100ml of the food product. This column is useful for comparing similar food products, especially since the serve size can vary significantly between food products. By using the 100g column you know you are always comparing the same quantity.

Energy is measured in kilojoules or calories. The total amount of energy in a food is a combination of the energy from the carbohydrate, protein and fat in a food.

Protein is needed for building and maintaining muscles, a healthy immune system and is essential for metabolism. Common protein foods include chicken, eggs and legumes.

Total fat It is important to monitor total fat intake to assist with weight management. There are different types of fat – monounsaturated, polyunsaturated, saturated and trans fats.

Saturated fat is the one type of fat that must be listed on all Nutrition Information Panels. It is the type of fat most commonly linked with an increase in low density lipoprotein (LDL) or “unhealthy” cholesterol levels and an increased risk of heart disease.

Carbohydrates are digested down into glucose by the body and raise blood glucose levels. It’s important to consider total carbohydrates and not just sugars when looking at how much food will affect your blood glucose levels.

Sugars can be added sugars or those found naturally in a food or ingredient such as milk or fruit.

Sodium is the amount of salt in a food product. Excess salt intake is linked with high blood pressure which increases the risk of heart disease.

Dietary fibre is an important part of healthy eating as it helps fill you up, keep your bowels regular and manage blood glucose levels.

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