How to read food labels

Canned vegetables can be handy and nutritious ingredients in your cooking but some can be high in salt. Read further to find out how you can minimise the amount of salt you consume from these sources.
First Published by: The National Heart Foundation of New Zealand

Taking a little bit of extra time to read food labels when you’re shopping can have big pay-offs, but it can be hard to make sense of all those numbers. Here’s a quick guide to help you navigate the supermarket and decipher food labels.

While we recommend that you base your shopping around real foods that are close to how they are found in nature (many of which don’t have a food label), in a busy world, processed foods can be a quick and easy option. To help you make better choices here is what we recommend you look out for when reading food labels.

What is the ingredients list?
The ‘ingredient list’ on food labels lists ingredients used in the product in order of size, from greatest to smallest. It can help to identify sources of fat, sugar and salt, and how many extra ingredients have been added. The shorter the ingredients list and more ingredients that you can recognise – the better!

What do you look for on Nutrition Information Panels (NIPs)?
Food labels can be confusing with all the different numbers and it can be hard to remember what you should be aiming for.

This table is a guide for what to look for on the ‘nutrition information panel’ on food labels. It is a guide only, and it is important to also consider the whole food and the ingredient list when making your decision.

To make things simple we recommend that when it comes to the 3Ss (saturated fat, sugar and sodium) – LESS is BEST! That is choose products which contain the least amount of saturated fat, sugar and sodium per 100g. If you are watching your weight, also look for foods that contain less energy (calories/kilojoules).

What about Health Stars?
Health Stars are a front of pack labelling system designed to identify healthier choices within broad food categories – the more stars the better! It is designed to be used on most packaged foods. The star rating is calculated using an algorithm that takes into consideration a number of positive and negative nutrients for a particular food. The positive elements include protein, fibre, fruit, vegetable, nut, seed and legume content. The negative elements include energy, sodium, saturated fat, and sugar. When comparing packaged foods within a food category, choose the product with the most stars.


Serious stuff, right?

Here’s a comic twist on Reading Food Labels on Canned Vegetables