Reading food labels
Food labels are used by the food industry to display the information that they want the public to see about their products. Labelling claims often focus on the positive elements of the product but do not tell the whole story about what is in the food. It is important to be able to interpret food labels accurately and read between the lines if required.
Food labels carry important information to help you make choices about food, and some of it is mandated by the government.
- Health Star Rating
- Ingredients list
- Nutrition information panel
- Nutrition claims
- Endorsements and logos
Health Star Rating
The Health Star Rating system was introduced by the State and Federal Governments in June 2014. It is being implemented by the food industry on a voluntary basis over the next five years in both Australia and New Zealand, with a review of progress after two years.
The star ratings are designed to provide shoppers with convenient, relevant and easy-to-understand nutrition information on the front of packaged food. The system rates the overall nutritional profile of packaged food and assigns it a rating from ½ star to 5 stars, with more stars representing the healthier choice.
Health Star Ratings allow shoppers to compare packaged products and make informed and healthier food choices. However, we must still watch our portion sizes and remember a healthy, balanced diet consists mainly of minimally processed food.
Fore more information, visit www.healthstarrating.gov.au
All manufactured foods sold in Australia must display an ingredients list on their packaging. Ingredients must be listed in descending order of volume with the main ingredient (greatest weight) listed first and the smallest ingredient last. Food additives are listed by name or an approved numbering system.
For more information on additives, Food Standards Australia and New Zealand (FSANZ) provide a list of food additives on their website.
Nutrition information panel
All manufactured foods sold in Australia must display a nutrition information panel. Nutrition information panels must include the amounts of energy (kilojoules or kJ), protein, total fat, saturated fat, total carbohydrate, sugar and sodium (salt) in the food. Some nutrition information panels also display other nutrients, such as fibre or calcium. These panels are usually found on the back of the packet and display the amounts per 100g and per serve.
The Parents Jury has designed a wallet-sized Nutrition Guide for Shoppers which shows you at-a-glance if a food is low, medium or high in fat, sugar and sodium. The Guide will help you compare food products and choose healthier alternatives.
Nutrition content and health claims
Nutrition content claims such as ‘high fibre’ and ‘low fat’ are allowed to be made on a product when the manufacturer can prove that the claim is true. Consumers need to be very careful with these types of claims as they may not tell the whole story. For example, products with ‘low fat’ claims could still be high in energy (kilojoules), sugars or salt.
Food manufacturers may make specific health claims about the nutritional content of their foods only if they are supported by sound evidence and meet specific nutrient criteria set by FSANZ. Health claims are not permitted on foods high in saturated fat, sugars or salt. Examples of health claims include ‘calcium is good for bone and teeth’ and ‘phytosterols may reduce blood cholesterol’.
Claims on foods need to be read very carefully and always in the context of the ingredients list and nutrition information panel.
For more information on nutrition content and health claims, visit Food Standards Australia and New Zealand (FSANZ)
Endorsements and logos
Food manufacturers also use endorsements, approval stamps and ticks on foods to market their products. Endorsements and approval logos may originate from an external organisation such as the Heart Foundation Tick, or they may be developed by the manufacturer themselves.
If in doubt, use the mandatory ingredients lists and nutrition information panels.