Food labels show information about the nutritional content of food
They also list the percentage of characterising ingredients of the food (that is the amount of the main ingredients contained in the food), and indicate the presence of possible allergens such as nuts, gluten and dairy. A best before date is included and the label should tell you how best to store the food.
A nutrition information panel lists ingredients in order of weight from the greatest amount to the smallest, per serve or 100g. Information on energy (kilojoules), protein, total fat, saturated fat, carbohydrates, sugar, sodium (salt) and any other nutrient about which a claim is made must be included, for example “contains added iron”.
Food additives are shown, usually represented by numbers which can be looked up in an additive code book. The origin of the food is also shown, such as the country or region from which it originates.
Food labels are essential guidelines for consumers with allergies, food intolerance, preferences such as vegetarianism, religious restrictions such as kosher or halal rules, or those who are health conscious, for example people who want to reduce their weight or keep their cholesterol in check.
Not all food is labelled. Fruit, vegetables, nuts, food sold in restaurants, take-aways, bakeries and so forth do not require labelling by law, although as the consumer you always have the right to ask about the contents of any processed food being served or sold. Food packaged in front of you, for example at a delicatessen or a bakery, does not have to be labelled either.
The New Zealand Institute for Plant & Food Research Limited and the Ministry of Health jointly own the New Zealand Food Composition Database (NZFCDB) which is the largest and most comprehensive collection of nutrient data in New Zealand. The NZFCDB’s primary role is providing up-to- date nutrient values for foods commonly consumed in New Zealand. It contains nutrient information on more than 2700 foods including moisture, ash, carbohydrate, protein, fat, cholesterol, caffeine, vitamins, minerals, fatty acids and fibre. Accredited laboratories in New Zealand and Australia are used to analyse these nutrients in the foods. You can search the database for foods matching specific keywords. You can then use the food nutrition data on this website as it is, or in conjunction with your own systems, to calculate Nutrition Information Panel (NIP) information for your product. The website is NOT a NIP calculator but does provide some information about calculating NIP information.
Understanding the information on the label
The ingredients are listed in order of quantity added, starting with the largest amount first.
If a product is called, for example, Sunflower and Barley, then the percentage of these ingredients in the product will be listed in brackets after these items in the ingredient list.
The 100 g column can be used to compare different ingredients. For example, to compare the level of dietary fibre in different bread products, use these values.
The per serve column indicates the levels of nutrients present in a given quantity of product. With a product such as bread the serving size will often be one or two slices of bread and usually this will also be named next to the serving size. However, with products that are not so easy to separate out, i.e. spreads, be careful as your serving size may be a larger amount than that listed on the pack. Try weighing out what you actually use and compare this to the packaging to give yourself an idea of how much extra or less you might be consuming.
Energy is listed in two different formats, kJ or kcal. One calorie equals 4.3 kJ.
For fat, the total fat value and saturated fat must be listed. The total fat value listed includes the saturated fat portion. On some products, levels of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats may also be listed. It is important to check the levels of fat and saturated fat present in a food – the lower the better.
Similarly for carbohydrates, the total value also includes the sugars content listed.
The Food Regulations require that sodium is listed on the nutrition panel. To calculate the amount of salt present in a food, multiply the sodium content per 100g by 2.5.
The above items must be included on the label but sometimes additional nutrients are listed on the nutritional panel, although this is dependent on the product.