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  • Joanna Baker APD | Everyday Nutrition

Label Reading Tips To Be Well Gluten Free

Please welcome to Be Well Gluten Free a new guest blogger and newly qualified Accredited Dietitian, Joanna Baker, who has coeliac disease herself.

After years working as a nurse in the acute setting, Joanna is intensely aware of the impact of lifestyle choices on health and quality of life. She directed her career towards nutrition and dietetics with the goal of combining her passion for food and health with her education and experience. She is motivated and enthusiastic about supporting individuals to improve their health though evidence-based and practical dietary advice.

Joanna is still employed part time as a nurse and enjoy the balance and skill mix of nursing and nutrition. Her nursing specialty is in anaesthetic and post-anaesthetic care with an emphasis on general surgery, gynaecology, obstetrics, gastro-intestinal and bariatric surgery.

Today Joanna has kindly prepared this guest blog to help us to Be Well Gluten Free when we’re trying to choose between products that will be help us to be our best. Over to you Joanna!

Label Reading tips to Be Well Gluten Free

What should you do if you want to be a savvy shopper? Learning to read a label is really to only way to know for sure you are making the best choice for you. Below are my 5 top tips aimed at giving you the confidence to know that you are selecting the most nutritious options next time you are deliberating in the supermarket.

Tip 1 – Ignore the front of the box.

That means the illustrations, logos, words, symbols, illustrations, endorsements and health claims. These do not necessarily mean the product inside is a more nutritious choice, or that another product isn’t just as good or even better. Marketers spend hours designing the box to make it the most appealing to the consumer. Although some laws bind them when it comes to wording of health or ingredient claims, their goal is primarily to sell their product by making it appear healthier, tastier or better than the other options.

Tip 2 – Read the ingredient list.

  1. Some imported products will have an additional sticker placed on or near the ingredients list. This is to ensure the product complies with Australia’s labeling laws and always overrides the labeling on the packet itself.

  2. This is also where you look for gluten containing ingredients such as sources of wheat, barley, rye and triticale. Since sources of gluten must be identified clearly on a product, these are often listed in bold on the ingredients list and/or in an allergen warning often beside the ingredients list.

  3. This is always in order of weight, therefore the ingredient listed first is present in the largest amount and the ingredient listed last is present in the smallest amount. By looking at the first 3-4 ingredients will give you a good idea of what the box really contains. If fat (oil, tallow, lard or anything ending in –glycerides), sugar (syrup or anything ending in –ose) or salt (sodium) are not one of the first ingredients you are probably on the right track.

Tip 3 – Check the Nutrition Information Panel.

  1. Individual needs may vary, but as a general rule you can look for:

  2. This is listed in “serve sizes” and “per 100g”. Since serve sizes vary from product to product, and what you serve yourself may not always be the same serve size as the manufacturer suggests, when comparing products use the “per 100g” column. This way you will always be comparing apples with apples. (Note: ‘<’ = less than, and ‘<’ = more than)

Ingredient: Fat | Good (per 100g): <10g | Great (per 100g): <5g Ingredient: Saturated Fat | Good (per 100g): <1/3 total fat | Great (per 100g): <2g Ingredient: Sodium | Good (per 100g): <400mg | Great (per 100g): <120mg Ingredient: Fibre | Good (per 100g): >5g | Great (per 100g): >8g 4 – ‘Allergen warning’ vs ‘May Contain’.

There are 8 common allergens recognized by food labeling laws in Australia and these must be declared on the label no matter how small the amount. Some products also have a ‘may contain’ statement. This is voluntary. Some manufacturers will process their products in the same area as they process allergen containing ingredients and cannot guarantee that traces of these allergens aren’t present.

Read here for more information on allergen labelling.

Tip 5 – Look for the nutrients you want.

Of course food contains lots of nutritious ingredients too! So look for what you want out of your product. For example if you are buying milk (or milk alternatives), yoghurt or cheese, calcium is something you want to see, try to choose items with >120mg of calcium per 100g. This is especially important in considering milk alternatives, although they may be lactose free, some nut/rice milks are very low in calcium and protein making them nothing more than flavoured water. Many gluten free products are low in fibre and high in sugar, fat and salt. Look for options that contain ‘wholegrains’ (gluten free of course) and have plenty of fibre (>8g/100g is ideal).

The Health Star Rating

In the last few months you may have noticed a new symbol appearing on the front of some pre-packaged foods on the supermarket shelf. The Health Star Rating system (HSR) was recently launched with the aim of making it easier for people to make healthier choices at the supermarket. Like all initiatives it has pros and cons, and understanding these will help you get the most out of it.

What is the HSR?

Basically the HSR rates packaged food from 0.5 stars to 5 stars much like a star rating on a fridge or washing machine. The more stars you see the healthier the food.

Stars are awarded based on a calculation that takes into account calories (or kilojoules), saturated fat, sugars and sodium balanced against protein, fibre, fruit, vegetable, nut and legume content.

How to use the HSR?

Sounds good at first glance, however there are a few factors to consider.

  • It’s simple and easy to read and understand at a glance.

  • The system is voluntary. This means that there will be both healthy and unhealthy choices that don’t have stars.

  • It doesn’t take into account additives, vitamins, minerals or how processed a food is.

  • It doesn’t tell you if the food is high or low GI, contains allergens or is gluten free.

  • Calculations are per 100g or 100ml. There is no consideration of portion size, either the recommended portion or the portion you choose to serve yourself.

  • It doesn’t tell you if the food is locally grown and manufactured.

In summary, the HSR is an easy way to compare two similar products in the same category e.g. choosing between two breakfast cereals, however, it’s not designed to be used in isolation or as the sole reason for making your food choices.

If you feel you’d to discuss any of these points or find out more about improving your own health now and in the long term, an Accredited Practicing Dietitian is the best way to go when looking for personalised advice on healthy eating. You can find one near you here with coeliac disease listed as an ‘area of interest’.

Joanna Baker is a university qualified Registered Nurse and Dietitian who believes that such a role is not just a job; instead it is a vocation. It’s one that she is passionate about, and also fits her own personal philosophy. You can connect with Joanna via LinkedIn, Facebook or her website .

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