Reading Food Labels in Australia

Packaged food items available to buy on shelves in Australia are required by law to have certain labelling. There’s been much awareness raised around the importance of reading the labels on our food; we know we should be doing it so that we understand exactly what we’re eating but sometimes the labels can be confusing (and often deceiving). When we turn over to read the back of a packet we find a series of long words and numbers in tiny writing…so what does it all mean? Below we’ve covered some important things you need to know.


The ingredients contained in foods will be listed in order from the most to least. This means, whatever ingredient is listed first contributes the largest amount and the last ingredient will be the smallest amount. So, for example, if sugar is the first ingredient listed on a packet you’ll know that food is VERY high in sugar and will want to steer clear that!

When it comes to things like additives and preservatives there are so many long names and numbers that it can be really hard to remember them all (and what their potential effect on our health is). To save time researching and have it on you at all times, I recommend downloading the ‘Chemical Maze’ app. It does cost $10.99 but personally, I think it’s well worth it. You simply type the ingredient name or number into the search tab and it will tell you everything you need to know about it including the risk level, functions, potential effects, possible uses and more. It looks just like this…

By the way, that ingredient there (oxybenzone) was the first listed on a well known brand of sunscreen that I picked from the supermarket shelf last week…a bit scary huh?

Different names:

Sometimes, ingredients can be listed under a variety of different names. For example, you might read a label and think that because it doesn’t say the word ‘sugar’ that it doesn’t contain it, but that may not be true. Here are some common ingredients you may want to be looking out for and the other names it might be listed as.

Sugar: fructose, malt extract, sucrose, dextrose, maltose, glucose, molasses, lactose, syrup, malt extract, raw sugar, brown sugar, modified carbohydrate.

Salt: sodium, booster, stock, rock salt, onion salt, celery salt, garlic salt, vegetable sale, MSG, baking soda, yeast extracts, sodium bicarbonate.

Fat: Oil, butter, margarine, lard, shortening, tallow, dripping, copha, cream, milk solids, monoglycerides, diglycerides.

Health Claims

You need to be careful, many health claims made on food packaging can be deceiving. Here are some to look out for and what they actually mean.

Low Fat or Fat Free: Low fat foods must contain 3 grams or less of fat per 100 grams and fat free foods must contain 0.15 grams or less of fat per 100 grams. But just because a food is low in fat doesn’t mean that it’s healthy. Quite often, what a food lacks in fat it will well and truly make up for in sugar also check for that!

No added sugar: This doesn’t mean sugar free! It simply means that there has been no sugar ‘added’ to the food but the naturally occurring ingredients in the product may still be high in sugar.

No added salt: This is the same as added sugar; it just means there has been no salt ‘added’ to the product, but it can still be high in salt.

Salt reduced: Means that this particular food has 25% less salt than contained in a similar product. It may still be high in salt.

High Fibre: The food must contain 3 grams or more of fibre per 100 grams.

Light/Lite: This doesn’t necessarily mean that the product is low in fat or sugar. The term ‘light’ can refer to the texture, colour or taste of the product. The characteristic that makes the food ‘light’ must be stated on the label so look closely.

Daily Intake:

Most packaged foods will contain a ‘percentage of daily intake’ or %DI table. This shows what percentage of your daily recommended intake of particular nutrients (including energy, protein, fat, fibre, calcium etc) the food contains. To find out what exactly what the overall daily recommend intake for these nutrients are see HERE.

Glycaemic Index:

The GI rating of foods explains how quickly the carbohydrates they contain is digested and absorbed into the blood. Foods that have a high GI (great than 70) are absorbed quickly and will only give you a short burst of energy. Low GI (less than 55) foods are best because they will slowly release the carbohydrates into your body, giving you longer lasting energy.

We hope that has cleared up some things and will help you make more informed choices when it comes to selecting food for you and your family.

Do you read the labelling on your food before making purchases? Did any of these facts about food labelling surprise you?



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