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Decoding Your Food's Nutrition Panel: Australia vs USA Edition

If you’re in the USA, your nutritional labels are controlled by guidelines set out by the  FDA, and you might have noticed a few key differences to the labels we see on the back of Australian food products. We’ll be unpacking how to decipher these confusing codes, whether you live downunder or in the United States.

Understanding serving sizes

Ever noticed how different serving sizes can be for the same product but a different brand? Here in Australia, you wouldn’t be surprised to see the same brand of chocolate list different serving recommendations for different flavours of what is, ultimately, the same amount of food and sugar. Why is this? Essentially, companies can choose the serving size themselves, leaving many to give a smaller amount than is realistic as it lowers their product’s sugar and fat content appearance. Misleading, we know – and it’s intentional. While the United States suffered a similar fate up until recently, new laws have prevented this confusing and dangerous practise from continuing. Products are now required to list serving sizes as amounts that would typically be consumed, not what they should consume or what the company decides looks best. This means in the US, products are easier to compare for sugar content, with some serving sizes nearly doubled to reflect regular consumer servings, while in Australia, it’s like looking at apples and oranges. If you’re in the US, here’s what you need to look out for to understand serving sizes:

  • Notice the bold print – serving sizes and calories are listed in large, bold font so it stands out from the rest.
  • Look to the top of the nutritional panel to find this section. 

Added and natural sugars in the sugar section

The sugar section is one of the differences that stands out between US and Australian labelling. This is where the former comes out on top – unlike Australia, Americans’ nutrition labels legally require the separation of naturally occurring and added sugars, so you’ll have no confusion around the sugar content of the product. In Australia, you may see added sugars listed separately on some products, but it’s not a requirement. The reason it's so significant that the US lists added sugars underneath total is that excessive consumption of this sugar has been directly linked to the obesity epidemic and type 2 diabetes. Yoghurt and cheese, for example, have naturally occurring sugars that don’t pose the same risks to consumers as any sugars added into these dairy products. It helps to know exactly how much of the added stuff you’re getting per serve so you can keep within the World Health Organisation’s limit for added sugars – 6 teaspoons a day for women and 9 for men. You’ll also notice on American nutrition labels that the types of added sugars are listed – look out for the following on your label:

  • Natural yoghurt may show 9 grams of total sugars per serve with zero added sugars.
  • Flavoured milk may show 15 grams of total sugars with 9 dedicated to an added source.

NOTE: You will likely find the added sugar content underneath “total carbohydrates”, so be sure to keep a keen eye out of this term if you can’t find the sugars section on the nutritional panel – see the example below:

What you see in the sugar section is the all-new format for US nutritional profiles, with the added sugars now listed on their own line.  

Understanding other nutrients on the nutritional label

All the numbers and percentages listed on your label can leave you scratching your head as to what it actually means. The (%DV) in both Australian and American nutritional panels refers to the Percent Daily Value of a nutrient, meaning how much of your daily needs you’ll find in a serve of the product. Here are a few guidelines to help you decode what these numbers mean for you:

  • 20% or more of the D is considered a high amount of that nutrient – so if you see iron listed at 20%, you’ll know you’re getting a good dose of this essential nutrient. In the same vein, 20% is considered high for elements like saturated fat and sodium – so if you see the amount above this, you’ll know the product is a once-in-a-while kind of food rather than an everyday food. Take a look at the image below to see how the percentages are listed:

  • 5% of the DV or less is a low serve of a nutrient, so if you see only 5% of protein on your pack of muesli, it’s important not to rely on this food as your sole source of the nutrient. But, it’s also worth keeping saturated fat and added sugars below this number to keep within the limits, making it a handy guideline for both healthy and less-healthy elements.
  • The DV can be used as a point of comparison among products, so check a variety of different sauces, breads and yoghurts to find the product with the highest amount of essential nutrients and the lowest amounts of sugar and trans fat. 

Need a little help with a stubborn sugar habit? As handy as some parts of the nutritional panel can be, it doesn’t change the fact that so many of our supermarket staples are laden with addictive sugar, leaving us coming back for more even though we know it’s hurting our health. We’re here to help. We know it can be hard to stick to your health goals – especially when you’re trying to manage it alone. When you sign up with us, you’ll have access to clear-cut meal plans, community support and exclusive access to our sugar-free content. Here’s what’s on offer:

  1. 8 weeks of meal plans and shopping lists.
  2. 90+ member-only recipes.
  3. Community forums to share your journey.
  4. Support and guidance from the I Quit Sugar team.
  5. Exclusive content from our panel of experts.

So, if you’re ready to ditch sugar and the host of maladies that come with it, it’s not too late to join. We’d love to help you get started on your health journey. Sign up HERE today!




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