One of the best ways to learn more about what you’re eating so that you can make the best choices for your health is to learn how to make sense of food labels. Once you understand what to look out for on food nutrition labels, you will navigate the shop aisles choosing products suitable for your needs with ease.

In South Africa, the way that food manufacturers label nutrition information on food packages has been standardized by regulations, so the same method of interpreting food nutrition labels will apply no matter which food you are looking at. Let’s look at some key elements to consider.

The list of ingredients

Foods with more than one ingredient must have an ingredient list on the label, and these ingredients are always listed in descending order by weight. Those in the largest amounts are listed first. This information is particularly helpful to individuals with food allergies, those who wish to restrict sugar or for people who prefer to avoid animal products.

The labelling of allergens

All Pick n Pay branded products provide detailed allergen information about ingredients. Where an allergen exists in a product, it is highlighted in bold behind the respective ingredient in the ingredients list. Alternatively, our food nutrition labels call out all the allergens contained in a product under a section called “Allergens” on the product label.

Nutrition claims

There are many health claims which can be made for food products and you may find some of these confusing. Here are some explanations of the more commonly used ones:

• Low fat: This means the item has less than 3g of fat for solids and 1.5g of fat for liquids, per 100g of the food.
• Fat-free: This means it has less than 0.5g of fat per 100g.
• Reduced fat: This means it has at least 25% less fat than the usual product.
• Source of vitamins and minerals: 15% of the daily recommended amount per serving.
• High in fibre: Means it has more than 6g of fibre per 100g of food.

Let’s look at a practical example

Step 1: Start with the Serving Size

Look for both the serving size, which is the amount of the food that people typically eat at one time and the number of servings in the package. Then compare the amount you actually eat with this recommended serving size. For instance, if the serving size is one cup and you eat two cups, you are getting twice the energy, fat and other nutrients listed on the label.

Step 2: Check the Total Energy content

Find out how much energy is in a single serving of the food – it is measured in kilojoules (kJ). Remember, it’s smart to cut back on your energy intake if you are watching your weight.

Step 3: Let the GDA’s be your guide

GDA’s (Guideline Daily Amounts) provide information on the approximate amount of kilojoules, total sugars, total fat, saturated fat and sodium contained in the food per serving. The percentage indicates how much of your total daily requirement of each nutrient is provided by a serving of this food. The focus is on these nutrients that you generally need to moderate or have ‘less of’ overall. Eating less saturated fat, added sugars and sodium may help reduce your risk for chronic disease.

Did you know?

Momentum Multiply members get up to 12% in cashbacks when shopping at Pick n Pay, and an extra 3% on top of the standard cashbacks during the COVID-19 lockdown in South Africa.

Pick n Pay is committed to promoting health and wellbeing among South Africans and employs the services of a registered dietitian to provide food and nutrition-related advice to the public. For your nutrition and health-related queries, contact [email protected] or toll free on 0800 11 22 88.

By Juliet Fearnhead
Locum Dietitian for Leanne Kiezer, Pick n Pay Dietitian