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  • Q&A with Australian Health Practitioners

    What is the most important thing to look for on food labels?

    My kids are both slightly overweight and so i am trying to become more aware of the processed food i give them. My husband and i could also do with loosing a bit of our excess weight. How do i read food labels and what should i be looking out for? Its all so confusing.
  • Find a professional to answer your question

  • 2


    Marla Bozic

    HealthShare Member

    The best foods in life have no labels! Aim for whole foods such as fruits, vegetables, protein, oats, nuts (allergies depending). However, the rule of thumb is to use products that have no more than 5 ingredients. Simply, stay away from ‘foods’ that have ingredients you cannot pronounce! 

  • 2


    Dung Pham


    Dung is an Accredited Practising Dietitian who currently works in Community Health and Private Practice as a HACC/CH dietitian and Health Coach. She has also … View Profile

     I do agree that foods without labels being non processed foods are the best foods to have but in reality we live in a world of processed foods. Food labels can be confusing and takes practice.

    Dietitians in your local community health centres often run supermarket tours teaching you how to read labels. Otherwise you could opt for a 1:1 consult to go through things more thoroughly.

    Diabetes Australia also have an excellent resource called “Healthy eating shopping guide” which you can order off their website. This gives you detailed information on what we look for in terms of the labelling for each of the food groups. It is also very reasonably priced !!!

    Otherwise Baker IDI also have a label reading resource which you can access online

    If you have a smart phone or iphone apps such as “Food tracker” ( Free) and “ Food switch” by Bupa ( free) are also useful but have their limitations.

    As a general guide when looking at labels i generally look at fat, fibre, sugar and salt ( sodium). i find my clients tend to focus on just “fat” or “sugar” when there are other things that are also important. Moreover just because something is low in fat ( less than 10grams per 100grams) example lots of childrens cereals doesnt mean that it is low in sugar. 

  • Melissa Adamski

    Dietitian, Nutritionist

    I am an Accredited Practising Dietitian (APD) and Accredited Nutritionist (AN) with a passion for food and good nutrition. I also have my own private … View Profile

    Absolutley agree Dung- learn from a dietitian how to understand fat, fibre, sugar and salt information on labels.

    Another thing to learn how to decipher is the energy content of foods- some food labels can make the energy (or any nutrient) look more favourable by changing the size of the ‘per serve’ column. For many foods the ‘per serve’ column is set by the manufacturer.

    When comparing foods remember to use the ‘per 100g’ column as then you are comparing ‘apples with apples’. If you compare ‘per serve’ you may be comparing a similar product across two brands but one serve may be 40g where as another serve may be 70g- so then the nutrition and energy content of that foods is non comparable.

    Another thing to look out for is how many ‘serves’ are in a  packet as this can make the nutrients look different as well. For example I have seen some medium sized chocolate bars (which we all know most people eat in one sitting) say they are 2 serves per bar- this can make the energy and fat content look smaller as they list half the chocolate bars' nutrients in the nutiriton panel so it doesnt look as bad. Many people may not realise this and eat it all thinking it doesnt contain much energy so it is important to seek advice on how to read these labels.

    Also look out for marketing claims on front of pack- just becuase a claim is made doesnt mean its healthy for example some food companies put ‘cholesterol free’ on foods- this might be true that it is cholesterol free but if it is a food that didnt havent cholesterol to start with it may not be a healthier product- yes it has no cholesterol but what else does it have in it.

    Dung has put some great examples above of where you can find information and it would be great to have a session with a dietitian to allow you to ask all the questions you want.

    Melissa Adamski

  • My research interests include immunology and the mechanisms of amyloid formation. The latter has implications for people who are dealing with Alzheimer's Disease, Parkinson's Disease … View Profile

    “aim for a weight loss rate of 1 - 2kg pw”
    I think that this is good advice.

    Weigh yourself daily"
    With respect, I disagree with you about this.
    It is completely normal for weight to vary by +/- 1-2 kg on a daily basis, depending on things like food intake, fluid intake, visits to the toilet, etc.

    I think for somebody who is over-weight/obsese, weighing themselves once a week (preferably longer) is a better gauge of judging things.

  • My research interests include immunology and the mechanisms of amyloid formation. The latter has implications for people who are dealing with Alzheimer's Disease, Parkinson's Disease … View Profile

    Vangel, I don't want to get into an argument about this with you. But, I will make two points:

    (1) Under the new Healthshare rules we are both classifed as “Health Professionals” - that means that neither of us have clinical training. As you can see from my profile I have explained my professional background clearly. Perhaps you could do the same with your profile - I can't see anything there about your documented professional background. If you could do that I think that it might help people to judge how helpful you may be to them.

    (2)  The people (Dung and Melissa) who *do* have clinical training have made great suggestions in this conversation.

  • I think your focus should be health for your family . Looking at the calories of food ona a label  is not a measure on how nutritious a food is. Processed foods are the only foods with labels  and they have the potential to be  high in fat, salt, and sugar and low in fibre. Most foods that have low or minimal calories ( with labels) are highly processed and are not always nutritious for you. e.g. diet drinks, weight watchers chocolate biscuits e.t.c. 
    The Clinical practice guidelines for the management of overweight and obesity in adults, adolescents and children in Australia ( 2013) NHMRC and The Australian healthy food Guidelines (2013) clearly state that it is the levels of saturated fats, salt and sugar ( essentially nutrient poor foods) and larger serving sizes that are causing obesity in our country. So it is these things you should be reading on the labels. Melissa and Dung have given good guidelines on how to do this. Generally reading labels on your most commonly purchased foods is a good place to start .
    Remember processed food should be kept to a minimum anyway . So food with labels should not be a big part of your diet.   To achieve your goal of weight loss it is not only about choosing healthy food but knowing the right amounts that you need to eat as part of meals and snacks so you can be healthy. It is the long term management of weight  that is important for health and these are just one of the many tools you need to know do this. Providing you the skills and tools to achieve a healthy weight on your own is the only way a long term  healthy weight can be achieved.
    Unfortunately healthy eating has become so confusing with all the conflicting information we get.

  • At figureate, accredited practising dietitians Zoe Nicholson and Marlene Gojanovic will help you get off the dieting merry-go-round and show you how to change your … View Profile

    I totally agree with the first response that the healthiest foods have no labels. At least 3/4 of your food shopping should be fresh produce (vegetables, fruits, lean meats, along with some nuts, eggs and wholegrains).

    Food labels can be a mindfield of information. To control your body weight (or lose weight), you need to control your kilojoules (energy). Therefore it is important to have an understanding of the energy content of the food. Dietary fibre is also an excellent guide with higher fibre foods typically being better choices.

    However, it is not as simple as just choosing the lowest kilojoule, highest fibre foods. If you are serious about getting your families health on track, consider consulting an accredited practising dietitian (APD). A dietitian can educate you on how to choose healthier foods, meal planning, portion sizes and show you how to manage your eating without having to cut out treats or avoid certain types of food. The advantage of this approach is you can maintain the dietary changes for life.

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