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ASSUME: Makes an ass out of you and me.

I was reminded of this the other day coaching a client. Having worked in the field of food, nutrition, and weight loss for 20 years, and with my book Read the Label published back in 2008, I tend to assume everyone knows how to read a food label, but, as I discovered the other day, they don’t. And so, this is to remind people about the importance of reading food labels, and what to look out for, particularly when you are trying to manage your weight.

In an ideal world, everyone would eat whole foods and there would be no need to read food labels but that’s not reality so allow me to take you on a step-by-step tour of food labels and help you understand how to see through the marketing mirage created by the food industry.


Fewer ingredients are best: Lots of ingredients with names and numbers you don’t understand are worst. Ingredients listed at the front of the list indicate there is more of that ingredient than any other, therefore if sugar appears as the first or second item on the list there are probably better alternatives. Unless you are buying a bag of sugar ?

Here are the ingredients in a bottle of tonic water

Ingredient’s list: Schweppes Tonic

Water, sugar, carbon dioxide, acidifier: citric acid, natural flavour, quinine


Chobani low-fat Greek yoghurt vs Jalna low-fat Greek yoghurt

Jalna Ingredients: Pasteurised Reduced Fat Milk, Milk Solids, aBc probiotics (also listed) i

Chobani Ingredients: Skim Milk, Live Yogurt Cultures,

Serve 100 g Jalna Chobani
Energy KJ 423 (102 Kcal) 240 (58 Kcal)
Protein 5.7 9.7
Fat 3.0 0.2
Saturated Fat 1.9 0.1
Carbohydrate 8.3 4.2
Sugar 6.7 3.3
Calcium 180 mg 120 mg
Sodium 92 mg 32 mg


Schweppes Tonic 100 ml
Energy 132 (32 Kcal)
Protein 0
Fat 0
Saturated Fat 0
Carbohydrate 8
Sugar 8

Serve size and KJ’s

Food manufacturers will always list the nutrients per 100 g serve AND per serve. The 100 g serve is useful when you are comparing like for like products, for example, yoghurt (see above), but when you are only looking at one product, it’s worth checking what the food manufacturer considers a serving to be. The popular muesli manufacturer Carmen’s suggests a serving size of 45g. Personally, and as much as I like many of Carmen’s products, I eat 1 ½ times that amount at breakfast. This is useful info for any of you who are trying to stick to a restricted calorie intake of 500 to 800 calories a day.

Other nutrients

The nutritional panel will always include protein, total fat, saturated fat, carbohydrate, sugar and sodium. Occasionally, as in the case with the yoghurt comparison above, it will include other micronutrients, such as calcium or fibre, particularly when they are making a health claim about the product. It’s important not to judge a product by one nutritional criterion alone.


Protein provides the building blocks for all chemical processes in the formation of new body cells and muscles. For those trying to manage their weight, protein with each meal helps with satiety and can reduce the temptation to snack between meals. In general, you should aim to eat between 0.75 g – 1 g of protein for each kg body weight a day.

The majority of your protein from food should come from lean meat, chicken, eggs, fish and plant protein, however, with the emerging vegan food products on the market, it’s important to read the food label to see how much protein they contain.

Low-fat yoghurt is another good protein source for lacto-vegetarians (those who allow dairy products in their diet) and is a good breakfast food for anyone trying to lose weight.

Fat and Saturated Fat

Forget about fat being bad, there are lots of great fats including nuts, seeds, avocado, and olive oil. What to look for here is the ratio of saturated fat to total fat. Ideally, aim for a product where the saturated fat content is 30% of the total fat content. This won’t apply to butter and cheese which themselves are whole foods with some positive nutritional qualities.

Carbohydrate and sugar

When you remember to look at the nutritional panel first you can quickly see whether any sugar listed on a product is from natural or added sugar. Added sugar is far more of a health concern than natural sugar and when you see names like glucose, maltose, corn syrup, golden syrup, sucrose, barley malt, rice malt, coconut syrup, honey, polydextrose, maltodextrose and treacle, you will know the product you are considering contains added sugar.

In the case of tonic water, where sugar is the second listed ingredient, you can see from the nutrients below that tonic water contains the same amount of carbohydrates and sugar. They are one and the same.

One teaspoon of sugar is the equivalent of 4g. Knowing this, you can quickly see that a 100ml serve of tonic, poured over your gin, adds 2 tsp of sugar to your drink. The general guide in a long G and T is 50ml gin and 200 ml tonic. Effectively giving you 4 teaspoons of sugar with every drink


Sodium is the last essential nutrient included on every nutritional panel, and as you probably know, we are encouraged to reduce our intake of sodium (salt) to lower our blood pressure and the risk of stroke. The recommended upper limit of sodium each day is 2,300 mg, which is approximately 1 tsp salt. It is always worth considering what your realistic serve is before you decide whether the product is high in salt or not.


A final analysis on the yoghurt

Nutritionally, and without comparing the probiotic count,  which we are unable to do, or the fact that Chobani is not an Australian-owned company, or which one you like the taste of more, Chobani wins on everything bar calcium.

That is not to say Jalna yoghurt is bad, I happen to like it a lot BUT, If you are strictly observing your calorie intake to lose weight, and provided you like both brands, I would go with the Chobani.

I hope this gives you a better idea of how to Read The Label. If you would like additional help in understanding how to Read Food Labels to improve your health you can book a One on One Food Coaching Consult with Judy 

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