Reading and understanding food labels

While we know fresh fruit, vegetables, wholegrains, nuts and seeds, legumes and lean meat are the best choices, at times we all rely on processed and packaged foods. In Australia, all packaged foods must display certain information such as a nutrition information panel (NIP), ingredient list and best-before or use-by date.

Nutrition information panel (NIP)

The NIP provides information about the nutrition in the product. The nutrients listed on the NIP include energy (kilojoules), protein, total fat, saturated fat, total carbohydrate, sugars and sodium. Other nutrients (such as calcium and iron) are listed if a claim is made about them, such as ‘good source of calcium'. The panel displays the amount of nutrient per 100g and per serve. When comparing products it is best to use the per 100g column as the serving size will vary between different products.

When reading the nutrition information panel we recommend you choose products with:

  • Less than 600kJ of energy per serve of snack food
  • Less than 10g of total fat per 100g
  • Less than 3g of saturated fat per 100g
  • Less than 15g of sugar per 100g
  • Less than 400mg of sodium (salt) per 100g
  • More than 3g of fibre per serve

Health Star Rating

The Health Star Rating is a voluntary front-of-pack labelling system used in Australia and New Zealand. Its purpose is to provide at-a-glance nutrition information to help people compare similar packaged food products.

Health Star Ratings range from 1/2 a star to 5 stars, based on the nutritional profile of 100g or 100mL of a product.

These ratings can appear on packs in two ways. The first shows just the star rating of the product; the second can show the star rating plus the nutrient content of the product.


So what are the stars based on?

Elements contributing to the star rating include:

  • Energy (kilojoules).
  • Nutrients to limit - saturated fat, sodium (salt) and sugars.
  • Positive nutrients - dietary fibre, protein and fruit, vegetable, nut and legume content.

Because Health Star Ratings are designed to judge similar food products, comparing different kinds of foods will not give accurate results. For example, the star rating on a yoghurt does not represent how healthy it is compared to a packet of lollies or breakfast cereal, only compared to other yoghurts or similar dairy products.

There is also no Health Star Rating on fresh foods like fruit and vegetables, which should be eaten every day for good health.

Visit the Health Star Rating website to learn more.

Ingredient list

The ingredient list lists ingredients in order from the highest weight to the lowest weight. This means the ingredient listed first is present in the largest amount and the ingredient listed last is present in the least amount. Ingredient lists are also useful for looking for sources of added fat, sugar and salt as well as potential allergens. Remember there are many other names used for fat, sugar and salt that may be listed in the ingredient list. Here are some to look out for:

Names for fat

Beef fat, butter, coconut oil, cocoa butter, copha, diglycerides, dripping, hydrogenated vegetable oil, lard, milk solids, monoglycerides, palm oil, shortening, tallow, vegetable oil

Names for sugar

Brown/raw sugar, corn syrup, cane sugar, dextrose, disaccharides, fructose, glucose, golden syrup, honey, invert sugar, lactose, malt, malt extract, maltose, molasses, sorbitol, sucrose

Names for salt

Rock salt, sea salt, chicken salt, garlic salt, celery salt, Himalayan pink salt, onion salt, sodium

Use-by and best-before date  

The use-by date means that the food must be eaten or thrown away by this date as the food may be unsafe to eat.

The best-before date means that the food is still safe to eat (as long as its not damaged) but may have lost some of its quality and nutrition after this date.

For detailed information about reading and understanding food labels visit the Food Standards website.