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Food labels made easy
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Food labels made easy

Supermarket shopping can be a big enough chore without the added stress of having to understand what is written on the food packaging. However, although it may initially look confusing it is really quite simple when you know what you are looking for.

The following summarises the information you will find on a food label and its relevance to your purchase.

Ingredients are listed in descending order of quantity contained in the food and the percentage of the characterising ingredient(s) is also listed e.g. Baked beans will list beans first and the percentage of beans contained in the product.
Remember: water is an important ingredient in many foods for cooking and consistency. It will be included when it is used in a food.

Any additives contained in the food will also state what they do (e.g. preservative, colour etc) plus give a code number. Common allergens (e.g. milk, wheat, egg) must be stated in the ingredient list, even if only in trace amounts.

Date marking

Packaged food with a shelf life of less than two years must have a 'use by' or 'best before' date.

  • 'Use by' is used for food safety and foods cannot be sold after this date.
  • 'Best before' is about food quality. After this date food may not be at its best as it might have lost some of its taste and quality.

Foods with a shelf life longer than two years e.g. canned food don't require date marking.

Nutrition Information Panel (NIP)

Most foods must include an NIP which lists the following nutrients per serve and per 100g:

  • Energy
  • Protein
  • Fat
  • Saturated fat
  • Carbohydrate
  • Sugar
  • Sodium

In addition, if the food label makes any other nutrient claim e.g. "high in iron" the NIP must include iron.

Tip: To compare the nutrient levels in different foods use the per 100g information. To understand how much you are actually eating look at the 'per serve' information.

Things to look out for to help you make healthy purchases:

Energy

Eating too many kilojoules each day is linked to obesity and related health conditions and diseases. Be careful as a food may be low in fat or sugar but still be high in energy.
Approx. Daily Reference Value: 8700kJ

Protein

Protein can come from meat, poultry, fish, eggs, legumes, nuts and seeds.
Approx. Daily Reference Value: 50g

Total fat

Some fat is essential in the diet but remember fat contains twice as much energy per gram as carbohydrate or protein.
Approx. Daily Reference Value: 70g

Saturated fat

Saturated fats raise total and "bad" cholesterol which may lead to an increased risk of heart disease.
Approx. Daily Reference Value: 24g

Carbohydrate

Carbohydrate is an important fuel for energy with the best food sources being wholegrains, vegetables and fruit.
Approx. Daily Reference Value: 310g

Sugar

Sugars such as sucrose, fructose, maltose and corn syrup supply energy without any nutrients and can lead to tooth decay.
Approx. Daily Reference Value: 90g

Sodium

Sodium is naturally occurring in some foods or is added as salt or an ingredient such as soy sauce. Sodium helps to improve the taste of many foods and is important for health however a high intake of sodium can lead to an increased risk of high blood pressure.
Approx. Daily Reference Value: 2300mg

Fibre

It is not mandatory for a food to state the level of fibre unless a specific claim is being made.
Approx. Daily Reference Value: 30g

Note: The daily reference values are based on an average adult diet. Your daily intakes may be higher or lower depending on your energy needs.

By Julie Dick, NZRD

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