The nutrition information panel
The nutrition information panel (NIP) tells you the quantity of various nutrients a food contains per serve, as well as per 100g or 100ml. It’s best to use the ‘per 100g or 100ml’ to compare similar products, because the size of one ‘serving’ may differ between manufacturers.
Under labelling laws introduced in Australia in 2003, virtually all manufactured foods must carry an NIP. There are exceptions to the labelling requirements, such as:
- Very small packages and foods like herbs, spices, salt, tea and coffee
- Single ingredient foods such as fresh fruit and vegetables, water and vinegar
- Food sold at fundraising events
- Food sold unpackaged (if a nutrition claim is not made)
- Food made and packaged at the point of sale.
The nutrients listed in the NIP
The NIP provides information on seven nutrients: energy (kilojoules), protein, total fat, saturated fat, total carbohydrates, sugars and sodium. Cholesterol content does not have to be listed unless a claim is made.
Listing saturated fat on the NIP helps consumers decide whether a food product may affect their blood cholesterol levels. Saturated fat has a more significant effect on blood cholesterol levels than mono- or polyunsaturated fats. It is generally present in higher amounts in animal-based products, but can also be found in non–animal-based foods, such as commercial biscuits and cakes (which contain hydrogenated vegetable oil – often listed as vegetable fat or shortening).
Other nutrients such as fibre, potassium, calcium and iron may be listed if a claim is made on the label. The nutrients are displayed in a standard format, providing amount per serve and per 100g (or 100ml if liquid).
The following are large amounts per 100g:
- 30g of sugars
- 20g of fat
- 3g of fibre
- 600mg of sodium.
The following are small amounts per 100g:
2g of sugars
- 3g of fat
- 0.5g of fibre
- 20mg sodium.
Nutrition claims on labels
Don’t be misled by labelling tricks and traps. The terms used are often misleading. For example:
The term ‘light’ or ‘lite’ doesn’t necessarily mean that the product is low in fat or energy. The term ‘light’ may refer to the texture, colour or taste of the product. The characteristic that makes the food ‘light’ must be stated on the label.
- The claims ‘no cholesterol’, ‘low cholesterol’ or ‘cholesterol free’ on foods derived from plants, like margarine and oil, are meaningless because all plant foods contain virtually no cholesterol. However, some can be high in fat and can contribute to weight gain if used too generously.
- If an item claims to be 93 per cent fat free, it actually contains 7 per cent fat, but it looks so much better the other way.
- ‘Baked not fried’ sounds healthier, but it may still have just as much fat – check the nutrition information panel to be sure.
- ‘Fresh as’ actually means the product hasn’t been preserved by freezing, canning, high-temperature or chemical treatment. However, it may have been refrigerated and spent time in processing and transport.