Food manufacturers are required to indicate the nutritional value of most packaged foods on their labels. This allows the consumer to identity what nutrients are found in the food they eat. There are specific criteria needed to ensure nutrition claims are consistent and are not misleading. The nutritional table includes serving size, Energy (kilojoules), protein, fat, carbohydrates, sodium, and may include vitamins and minerals. Below represents a typical nutritional table.
Where, g = grams, mL = milliliters, kJ = kilojoules, Cal = calories, mg = milligrams, µg = micrograms.
- Serving size and number of serves per pack
- Nutritional facts on labels are usually based on one serving, but many packages contain more. Look at the serving size of the product and how many servings you are actually consuming. If you have a 500mL product and the serving size is 200mL, there are 2.5 serves per pack and therefore the nutritional information on the label per serve must be 2.5 times more if the entire pack is consumed.
- When you compare different brands look at the kilojoules and nutrients and check if the serving size is the same.
- Energy is written in calories or kilojoules (Kilojoules for Australian foods).
- This is where you will find the number of kilojoules per serving so pay close attention to the amount.
- The kilojoule content of foods depends on the amount of carbohydrates, fats and proteins present in the food.
- Each person has a different kilojoule intake; factors that affect your personal daily kilojoules count include your age, height and weight, your basic level of daily activity, and your body composition.
- Fat free doesn't mean kilojoule free. Lower fat items may have as many kilojoules as full fat versions.
- The standard method used to estimate your minimum daily protein requirement is to multiply the body weight in kilograms by 0.8.
- For protein, choose foods that are lower in fat.
- Most people get plenty of protein, but not always from the healthiest source.
- Total fats include all different kinds of fats such as Hydrogenated safflower oil, partially hydrogenated cottonseed oil, palm oil, canola oil, margarine, butter, walnut oil, grape seed oil, almond oil, tallow, suet, and lard.
- Fat has more kilojoules than any other component.
- To help reduce your risk of heart disease and diabetes, use the label to select foods that are lowest in saturated fats, trans fat and cholesterol. (Trans fat increases your risk of heart disease).
- To help lower blood cholesterol, replace saturated and trans fats with monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.
- Carbohydrates and Dietary Fibre
- Choose healthy, wholesome carbohydrates.
- Fibre and sugars are types of carbohydrates. Healthy sources, like fruits, vegetables, beans, and whole grains, can reduce the risk of heart disease and improve digestive functioning.
- Look for the "whole" grain listed in the ingredient list (e.g. Whole wheat, brown rice or whole oats).
- Compare the sugar content in grams among different products, the less sugar the better.
- Limit the consumption of foods with added sugars (sucrose, glucose, fructose, molasses, honey, corn or maple syrup), When combinations of these ingredients are present in products, the total amount of sugar may be greater than it appears to be.
- Sugars add unnecessary kilojoules and no other nutrients (make sure that added sugars are not one of the first few items in the ingredient list).
- Reduce your sodium intake for your health as this will reduce your risk of high blood pressure
- Vitamins and minerals
- Are expressed in a percentage of the recommended dietary intake (%RDI). RDI corresponds to the recommended daily amount for each nutrient listed (based on a 2 000 calorie diet).
- For calcium, iron, vitamin A and C, for example, aim for a high RDI. For other nutrients such as sodium, it is preferable to choose a food that has a lower RDI.
When looking at the ingredient list of a product remember that the ingredients are listed in order of the amounts contained in the product. If orange juice is the first ingredient, then the product will contain more orange juice than any other ingredient and always the ingredient list will also tell you what food additives and preservatives are contained in the product.
When selecting a food product, try to choose products with more fibre, vitamins, calcium and iron, and less fat, cholesterol and sodium.