Label Reading – Part 1

Food-labels-malkFood manufacturing companies often spend just as much money on packaging as they do on the food inside, so when choosing nutritious food it helps if you can navigate around all the jargon.

‘A Good Source of Energy’

This DOES NOT mean that the product contains magical ingredients which will invigorate you. It simply means that it is high in kilojoules (calories).

‘90% less saturated fat’

Most likely means that the manufacturer has reformulated the recipe to include more mono and polyunsaturated fats. That’s not necessarily a bad thing as we want to consume more unsaturated fats, but it still contains fat so beware. Don’t make the mistake of thinking it means ‘90% fat free’ It’s often also accompanied by an (*), which means “there’s more I legally have to tell you but it won’t fit on the label and I don’t really want you to know it, so I’m going to hide it on the back somewhere”. Usually that info is something like ‘when compared to original (insert product name here)’.

‘Reduced Fat’

Means just that – it has less fat than regular versions. It doesn’t mean ‘low-fat’. Regular cream cheese contains around 37% fat, while reduced fat varieties contain about 17%. Not low-fat, just LOWER-fat.


This one’s tricky as it can mean a number of things. ‘Light’ – tends to mean lower in fat or kJ’s than the original version, while ‘Lite’ means lighter in colour or flavour i.e olive oil , or a lighter cut i.e thin cut chips. It doesn’t mean ‘eat as much as you like’

‘Cooked in Vegetable Oil’

Have a closer look at what vegetable oil it’s been cooked in. Palm oil, which is used extensively in the manufacture of food, is 50% saturated fat (the stuff that hardens your arteries) yet is considered a vegetable oil. If the manufacturer doesn’t name the vegetable oil then you can assume it’s not good. They didn’t leave that information off to save you agony in the supermarket isles! If they’re using the good stuff (canola, sunflower, or soya) they’ll mention it.

‘Low-salt or Low-Sodium’

Contains less than 120mg per 100g


Means it has less kJ’s than the original version. The manufacturer has reduced the fat and sugar content of the product, but in the case of soft drinks especially, have replaced the sugar with artificial sweeteners.

‘95% Fat Free’

A quick bit of maths will tell you that the product still contains 5% fat. Just because it’s emblazoned on the front of the packaging, doesn’t mean that other products won’t be lower. Shop around.

To be labelled as wholegrain the product must contain all 3 parts of the grain – endosperm, germ and the bran of the grain. Easy right? No. FSANZ doesn’t say anything about the grain being intact. Some manufacturers will process the grain, and the food product will contain the correct ratio of endosperm, germ and bran typical of an intact grain, but they aren’t necessarily intact. This doesn’t mean that it’s any less nutritious though, as all the nutrients are still present.

‘Baked, not Fried’

Fried food is not recommended as it tends to be very high in fat and often high in saturated fat. But manufactured baked foods be can just as high, so be wary when you see this label.

Some snack foods are low in fat: pretzels are usually low in fat, some less than 3%, and many rice crackers are less than 4% fat (although they’re often high in salt). Some crackers with the ‘baked not fried’ label, however, are more than 25% fat. ‘Baked not fried’ by itself is meaningless; you need to read the nutrition panel to know what you’re getting. Check the total and saturated fat content per 100g, and compare to other products.

‘No added Sugar’

Easy, it means they haven’t added any sugar. It doesn’t mean that it doesn’t contain any sugar though. Fruit juice is a good one for this. Often labels claim to have ‘no added sugar’ but 100ml of orange juice can contain the same amount of sugar as Coke! Compare the labels next time you’re at the supermarket. OJ obviously has a number of benefits over Coke, one being the Vitamin C content, but drink with caution.

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