How To Decode Food Labels

by | Jan 9, 2012 | Nutrition

The next time your girlfriend gives you stick about not reading instructions, take it on the chin.

It’s a fact: men don’t read (read, not need!) instructions. So if you’re not even willing to glance at the wiring schematic for your home entertainment system, of course you’re not reading food labels . But you should, because what you put in your mouth could eventually kill you.Thankfully, government is on your side on this one. On 1 March 2012 (courtesy of the Consumer Protection Act) the face of food labeling in South Africa will be changing for the better. And nutrition coach Megan Pentz-Kluyts has a great cheat sheet so you can also be label wise.

Glycaemic carbohydrates

Carbs available to the body for energy. The total sugars include all sugars – those naturally found in the food as well as those sugars added to the food.

Total fat

As in, all the fat in the product should be noted if you’re trying to lose weight . Low fat is considered less than 3g/100g or choose small portions less frequently. Limit your intake of saturated and trans fats – both unhealthy fats. Rule of thumb: less than 3g of total fat; less than 2g of saturated fat; and less than 1g of trans fat per 100g of food.

Dietary fibre

Only contained in foods that naturally contain fibre, such as fruits, vegetables, cereals, wholegrains and legumes.

Total sodium

High sodium has been linked with high blood pressure, so try to keep your sodium intake to less than 2 000mg per day (5g salt). To convert sodium to salt, multiply by 2.5.


Listed by weight. The ingredient listed first is present in the largest amount and the ingredient listed last is present in the least amount.

Suitable for vegetarians

Any vegetarian claims made need to indicate clearly which type of “vegetarian” the food is suited to. This includes strict or vegan (plant only), ovo- (egg), lacto-(milk) or if honey is in the food.

NRV Nutrient Reference

Value replaces the RDA. The NRV is a recommended daily intake for a nutrient. It gives us a percentage for a certain nutrient, mainly protein, vitamins and minerals, which may be found in a food.

Per 100g

The nutritional table tells you the quantity of various nutrients a food contains per serving, as well as per 100g or 100ml. Use the 100g column when comparing foods with each other, because the size of one “serving” may differ between manufacturers.

Per 50g

A recommended portion size or a single serving is given. The manufacturer produces appropriate, scientific, evidence-based documentation justifying the serving size that was chosen and should be able to provide such justification to an inspector upon request. No more super-sizing!

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