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How to read food labels

Taking extra time to read food labels when shopping can have big pay-offs, but it can be hard to make sense of all those numbers. Here’s a quick guide to help you navigate the supermarket and decipher food labels.

While we recommend that you base your shopping around natural foods close to how they are found in nature (many of which don’t have a food label), processed foods can be a quick and easy option in a busy world. To help you make better choices, here is what we recommend you look out for when reading food labels.

What is the ingredients list?

The 'ingredient list' on food labels lists ingredients used in the product in order of size, from greatest to smallest. It can help to identify sources of fat, sugar and salt and how many extra ingredients have been added. The shorter the ingredients list and the more ingredients that you can recognise - the better!

What do you look for on Nutrition Information Panels?

Food labels can be confusing with all the different numbers, and it can be hard to remember what you should be aiming for.

This table guides what to look for on the ‘nutrition information panel’ on food labels. It is a guide only, and it is important to consider the whole food and the ingredient list when deciding.

To simplify things, we recommend that when it comes to the 3Ss (saturated fat, sugar and sodium) – LESS is BEST! Choose products that contain the least amount of saturated fat, sugar and sodium per 100g. If you are watching your weight, look for foods containing less energy (calories/kilojoules).

A graphic image explaining what each component of a food label means and how to interpret it.

What about Health Stars?

Health Stars are a front-of-pack labelling system designed to identify healthier choices within broad food categories - the more stars, the better! It is intended to be used on most packaged foods. The star rating is calculated using an algorithm that considers several positive and negative nutrients for a particular food. The positive elements include protein, fibre, fruit, vegetable, nut, seed, and legumes. The harmful components include energy, sodium, saturated fat, and sugar. When comparing packaged foods within a food category, choose the product with the most stars.

Tips to help you shop smarter

1. Decide how much you can spend

As simple as it may seem, many of us arrive at the supermarket without knowing how much we can spend. If you don't know, you can easily spend more than you can afford. Plan your weekly or monthly food budget and stick to it!

2. Use a shopping list

Write a shopping list before you go shopping. It will save you time and prevent you from buying extras.

3. Eat before you shop

If you shop when hungry, you are more likely to buy unnecessary extras, such as chips, lollies and chocolate.

4. Buy in season

Fruit and vegetables are cheaper in season, so make the most of better prices when your favourites are at their best. Remember, it pays to shop around for bargains. For example, try your local farmers' market, where produce is bound to be fresh.

5. Adapt your recipes

Experiment by substituting ingredients for less expensive and healthier options. For example, use milk instead of cream, or add beans to a meat casserole. If fresh vegetables are too expensive or out of season, replace them with frozen ones; these are just as good for you.

6. Cut back on takeaways

Takeaways cost much more than home-cooked meals and usually contain more fat and salt. Instead, make similar meals at home and keep takeaways as an occasional family treat.


Learn more about heart-healthy eating to help you make healthier choices when you're supermarket shopping.

Eating for a healthy heart