Understanding Labels

Understanding food labelsThe ingredient which makes salt bad for health is sodium, so that’s the ingredient to look for when you shop.

In Australia, labels on packaged processed foods must carry a Nutrition Information Panel showing the sodium content in milligrams per serving and milligrams per 100 grams (mg/100g).

To check if a food is low in salt*, use the 100 gram column (usually the right-hand column).

Food is low in salt if it has 120mg or less of sodium per 100g.

Steps

  1. Find the 100 gram column (circled)
  2. Find sodium (circled)
  3. Check the sodium figure in the 100 gram column (circled) – less than 120 mg is low in salt.

This yoghurt has 60mg per 100 grams, which means it is low in salt.

If you can’t find a low salt brand of food (they can be hard to find!), then read the label to find the alternative with the lowest salt. An overall guide* is:

120mg per 100g =LOW
The healthiest choice
120mg to 600mg = MODERATE
OK most of the time, but not if you already have salt-related health problems
Over 600mg = HIGH
Avoid these foods

*The definition of low salt that we use here is based on the Food Standards Australia New Zealand figure of 120mg or less. As there is no Australian standard of moderate and high salt intake, the figures we use here are based on the United Kingdom’s Food Standards Agency definitions.

Do we need better labels?

If you find it hard to follow these rules, then you’re not alone. There is a growing argument that the labels on Australian food are too complicated to really help consumers make clear choices about what they’re buying. In the UK, one of the ways in which manufacturers are helping consumers is by labelling salt as well as sodium. AWASH aims to find the best nutritional labelling systems for Australians and then lobby for its mandatory use by food manufacturers.