The nutritional information on packaged foods is designed to provide detailed information that will help you to make informed decisions about the food that you are purchasing. Following a healthy eating plan can be daunting at the best of times, then throw in navigating a nutritional food panel and it can become downright confusing! We have broken food labelling down for you to make your food shopping experience as simple as possible.
What is a nutritional panel?
All food items except fresh foods such as fruit, vegetables, meats, seafood and bakery items, should have a food label on the package. The details will generally include:
- Name and brand of the product
- Ingredients list – in order from largest to smallest by weight
- Directions for use
- Storage information including expiry or best before date
- Manufacturer details
- A nutritional information panel (NIP) which includes serving size, the amount of energy, fat, protein, sugars, fibre and salt
- Allergy information
Some labels will also tell you what percentage of the recommended daily intake is provided by one serve of the product. This helps you to work out how the food fits into a balanced diet.
So, what’s important to note?
Nutrition claims will often be displayed on packaging such as low fat, fat free, high fibre, sugar free and while this can be helpful, it doesn’t always mean the product is healthy. It’s important to read the ingredient list and the nutritional information panel (NIP) and look at the whole picture, for instance, an item might be low in sugar but extremely high in salt.
If a product contains common allergens such as nuts, gluten or dairy, it is a requirements to state this detail clearly, listing the actual food ingredients in bold type within the ingredients list. This information is important for people trying to navigate food intolerances and particularly those with medically diagnosed food allergies, which could be life threatening.
While rare, it is still possible that the quality of the packaged food becomes compromised. It’s important to know the details of the manufacturer including when and where the food was processed so that you can keep track. Knowing details such as batch numbers, production dates, expiry or best before dates as well as product storage information and directions for use are critical.
So how do you make the right choices?
Below are three of our top tips for ensuring healthy choices when selecting packaged foods.
Read the ingredients list. Ingredients are always listed according to their weight, starting with the highest down to the lowest weight of an item. As a rule of thumb, look at the first three ingredients and make sure that you know what they are. With these, you can to make sure they aren’t high in fat, sugar or salt. It’s always good to avoid food that contains numbers as these are additives. While some additives are necessary to extend shelf life of food, many are included to enhance colour, flavour and texture. Knowing what the numbers are can be very helpful. If you’re wanting more information about additives, you can check it out here!
NUTRITION INFORMATION PANEL (NIP)
Look over the Nutritional Information Panel (NIP) every time. This is a very useful tool on packaged food so it’s handy to be able to read and understand the detail. The NIP provides information on the quantity of various nutrients a product contains per serve and per 100g or 100 ml. Serving sizes will always differ between brands and product so when reading the NIP, it is best to read the per 100g column for an easy and accurate comparison.
For optimal health, aim for products that have lower levels of saturated fat, sugar and sodium per 100g, and higher levels of fibre. Rather than focusing on single nutrient only, it’s also better to look at the item as a whole to make an informed choice between similar products. Below is some extra top tips for you!
HEALTH STAR RATING
Check the Health Star Rating. This system is another guide intended for making healthy choices at a quick glance. It rates packaged foods on a scale of 1/2 star through to 5 star with 5 star being the healthiest option. Health stars are designed to compare similar products. For example, choosing between two brands of bread rather than comparing bread with a different product entirely, such as breakfast cereal.
While using packaged food is very acceptable, it’s always important to include plenty of fresh whole foods such as fruit and vegetables and lean meats and seafood to ensure a balanced diet.
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