Each country has its own regulations about food labelling.
For Australia’s laws on food labelling, see this website below.
Currently there are labelling regulations regarding country of origin, fish, GM foods, alcohol, ingredients list and percentages, health claims, and for other subjects such religious, environmental, animal welfare issues.
Here is the current Australia guidelines on ingredients
Ingredients must be listed in descending order (by ingoing weight). This means that when the food was manufactured, the first ingredient listed contributed the largest amount and the last ingredient listed contributed the least. For example, if sugar is listed near the start of the list the product contains a greater proportion of this ingredient.
If the product contains added water, it must be listed in the ingredient list according to its ingoing weight, with an allowance made for any water lost during processing, e.g. water lost as steam. The only exceptions are when the added water:
- makes up less than 5% of the finished product,
- is part of a broth, brine or syrup that is listed in the ingredient list, or
- is used to reconstitute dehydrated ingredients.
Sometimes compound ingredients are used in a food. A compound ingredient is an ingredient made up of two or more ingredients e.g. canned spaghetti in tomato sauce, where the spaghetti is made up of flour, egg and water. All the ingredients which make up a compound ingredient must be declared in the ingredient list, except when the compound ingredient is used in amounts of less than 5% of the final food. An example of a compound ingredient that could be less than 5% of the final food is the tomato sauce (consisting of tomatoes, capsicum, onions, water and herbs) on a frozen pizza.
However, if an ingredient that makes up a compound ingredient is a known allergen it must be declared regardless of how much is used.
Most packaged foods have to carry labels which show the percentage of the key or characterising ingredients or components in the food. This allows you to compare similar products.
The characterising ingredient for strawberry yoghurt would be strawberries and the label would say, for example, 9% strawberries. An example of a characterising component could be the cocoa solids in chocolate. Some foods, such as white bread or cheese, may have no characterising ingredients or characterising components.
How to read a food label
First of all, find the food label usually on the back of a packet. Sometimes, they are hidden under a flap of packaging. Many food labels are very small print, so bring your glasses and have them handy in the supermarket.
Check out the ingredients, which are usually listed in descending order. In other words, the highest ingredient will be first right down to the smallest amount of ingredient. Look for hidden names for sugar.
Check out this website for some names of hidden sugar
Then check the macronutrients – the protein, fat and carbohydrate. I usually look along the column labelled 100g. This gives me a standard that I can use to compare which foods are high in carbohydrate and also sugar.
If something has 60g of carbohydrate per 100g, then it is 60% carbohydrate. You should then be able to identify foods that you want to avoid or foods that you can have in small amounts within your healthy eating plan.
If you learn how to read food labels, then you are in control of what you eat and are able make healthy choices at home, when shopping and also when eating out.