Nutrition panels can be confusing, but if you know how to read them they’re a useful source of information to help you make comparisons before you buy. It is important to look at the food as a whole rather than making purchasing decisions based on just one nutrient alone.
There are four main nutrients to look out for when shopping for foods:
Saturated and Trans Fat
The main benefit of the nutrition panels is to compare the nutrient content of different varieties of similar foods. The quantity per 100 gram column is best when comparing similar products across different brands. The 'per serving' value allows you to understand nutrients in the amount in a serve.
Nutrients that are always listed in the panel are: energy (kilojoules), protein, fat (total), saturated fat, carbohydrate (total), sugars and sodium. Additional nutrients such as vitamins and minerals are also listed, usually to support any nutritional claims the products is making.
Let's take a closer look at each nutrient group:
Energy - Energy is listed on the panel as kilojoules. There may also be a value on the panel for calories. Kilojoules are the metric measurement while calories are the old or imperial measurement. If you are going to choose a cereal bar as a snack, choose ones which have 600kJ or less per serve.
Protein - Protein is needed in our diets to help repair and grow muscle. Aim to eat foods from a variety of protein sources including low fat dairy, lean meat, lentils and pulses.
Fats - While fats are an essential part of your diet, too much unhealthy saturated and trans fats should be avoided.
Carbohydrates - The best types of carbohydrates are those which release their energy slowly. Choosing the healthier carbohydrates is easy – go for fresh fruit and veggies, wholegrain breads, wholegrain cereals and pasta and rice. They are all healthy foods and form part of a healthy eating pattern. It is recommended that you limit’ extra’ or ‘sometimes’ foods that are high in sugar such as sugar sweetened soft drinks, sports drink, fruit drinks, cordials, confectionery, sweet biscuits and cakes.
Dietary Fibre - Wholegrains, fruit and vegetables provide your body with the fibre it needs, but it can sometimes be difficult to make sure you’re eating enough.
Sodium - Listed as sodium, salt is often used in packaged foods as a flavour enhancer, which means your salt intake can be high without you knowing it.
When considering what products to purchase, always look for the Heart Foundation Tick. By looking out for the Tick, you can easily choose healthier products at a glance. They’re healthier because Tick foods are lower in saturated fat, sodium, and energy but they also contain plenty of the good stuff like fibre, calcium, wholegrains and vegetables.
With more than 1,700 products now approved to use the Tick, you are bound to find a healthier alternative to the foods you usually buy.
Courtesy of the Heart Foundation