how to read food labels

How do we even begin to read a food label?
When you pick up a food product, you’ll find that on the back, there’s a nutrition information panel, and this can be quite confusing to read because there are a lot of numbers and a lot of figures. It can be hard to understand what they all mean and what you should be looking for in a healthy food product. So, let’s break it down when comparing one product to another.

Start by focusing on the per 100 gram column of the numbers. This means that you can compare food products like one muesli bar to another muesli bar in terms of its fat content or its sugar content. Even if those two bars may be different portion sizes.So the first thing you will see at the top of the list is the energy. That’s just the amount of calories or kilojoules (energy) that is in the food. Next, we’ll see that there’s some protein listed and then there’s also the fat which is broken up into total fat and saturated fat.

A general rule is that we want to be aiming for around about 15 grams per 100 grams when it comes to fat or slightly less than that too. But, it’s important to bear in mind that if the food that you’re eating is a nutritious source of fats, such as nuts or seeds or extra Virgin olive oil, then those aren’t necessarily accounted for. We do know that these good sources of fats actually have a lot of health benefits. In terms of saturated fat, we want to be aiming for less than three grams per 100 grams where possible.


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If we move down to the carbohydrate area, we may see that there is a total carbohydrate intake and then it’s also broken down to sugars. When looking at the sugars, see if the sugar content is about 15 grams or more per 100 grants, then have a look at the ingredients list and see if sugar is listed higher on the ingredients list the hight it is the more sugar there is in that food product. Generally, we want to be consuming foods that don’t have sugar and the top part of the ingredients list, because that means that they’re quite rich in added sugars that we don’t necessarily want to be consuming these in large amounts.

Did you know…

Sugar can be listed on food labels in a number of different names, such as glucose, dextrose and good old sugar itself.


If you move down to sodium, which is salt, we want to be aiming for foods with less than about 400 milligrams per 100 grams. Or, if you want to be even better around about 120 milligrams per 100 grams is a really good mark to aim for.

Some food labels also contain a fibre, and if you are choosing a food product and it does have fibre on there, we want to be trying to aim for a product that has three grams or more per serve.

At the end of the label, you’ll also see that there is list of all the ingredients in the product. The first ingredient is the one that’s in the largest quantity in the product and the ones towards the end or in the smallest quantity. This helps us to identify what the product is actually made up of and to understand which ingredients are in the food we eat. We want to be seeing ingredients towards the end of the ingredients list that we don’t need to worry about too much. These are the things we should have in moderation in our diet.  For example, if it was a bit of honey at the end of an ingredient list with eight different ingredients, it’s probably not going to be too high in sugar. However, if we see an ingredient like sugar at the very start of the ingredients list, then we know that that’s going to be quite a sugary product.

That’s a little bit of a breakdown and a bit of an overview to help you feel more confident when chosing what product of right for you. If you do want more support on figuring out what the best foods are for your diet, that is definitely something that a I can do with you as a Dietician and Nutritionist. My goal is to be able to support you and help you stay energised and healthy.

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