Smart Shopping: How to read food labels with Mandy Sacher

January 1, 2024

Chief Nutrition Officer Mandy Sacher wholeheartedly believes that all children deserve to eat real food – it is what motivated her to focus on children’s nutrition and what continues to drive her to keep making changes in the childcare sector.

Product research is a huge component of her work and trawling supermarket aisles hunting for the best product displays for her MindChamps workshops and families is something she is deeply passionate about.

“My ultimate aim is to help our MindChamps parents navigate the supermarket aisles to ensure you choose the most nutritious options available, free of the nasties that are present in many foods.

Life is busy, and whilst most families don’t have time to cook everything from scratch, learning to read nutrition labels allows you to see clearly what a healthier choice is and identify hidden ingredients like additives, preservatives and artificial colours and flavours.

Here Mandy shares how to read nutrition labels so you can know what belongs in your trolley and what should stay on the shelf!

smart shopping


How to read a nutrition label

  1. Begin by focusing on the ‘per 100g’ values, as ‘per serve’ can often be misleading if you’re likely to eat more than the suggested serving size. The ‘per 100g’ column is also the most useful for comparing products to assess their sugar, protein, sodium, and fat content.
  2. What you’ll see when you flip the back of your food packages, is that nutrition labels come in two parts – the ingredients list, which consists of all the ingredients in a product, and the nutritional panel, which gives you a breakdown of nutrient values.
  3. Becoming label savvy and understanding an ingredients list will help you know exactly what you’re putting in your body. First things first, the ingredients are listed in descending order of weight, so put simply, the first listed ingredient makes up the most of that product. It’s good to look out for sugar, sodium or any ingredient that’s written as a number here, and if it’s high on the ingredients list, leave it on the shelf!
  4. The main ingredient will usually have a percentage next to it, for example in sausages: Beef (65%). This is helpful as it allows you to compare products and look for a sausage that contains a higher percentage of beef (closer to 90%), which means less room for additives and fillers. If the product contains added water, it must be listed in the ingredient list according to its ingoing weight, with an allowance made for any water lost during processing, e.g. water lost as steam.
  5. Often, ingredients can be disguised with other scientific names or broken up into smaller parts so as not to appear high on the list. Sugar and salt are most popular for this, so read on below to find out their pseudonyms.

smart shopping

Understanding Sugar

Did you know, there are over 50 different names for this sweet stuff? The most common ones to look out for are:

  • ‘sugar’
  • ‘glucose’
  • ‘fructose’
  • ‘sucrose’

To determine how much sugar a product contains, look at the 100g column and then find the sugar line (under carbohydrates). A low-sugar product will contain less than 5g of sugar per 100g. A moderate sugar-containing product will have between 5-10g and a high-sugar product will contain more than 10g per 100g.

Sugar includes intrinsic and added sugars. For example, in a squeezie yoghurt with 11g of sugar on the label, 4-5g would be intrinsic (from lactose in milk) and the rest (around 6g) would be added in the form of fruit concentrate or cane sugar.

Understanding Salt

While salt and sodium are essential for the body to absorb other nutrients, too much of it can put stress on growing bodies and increase blood pressure in both children and adults.

Some children consume more than 75% of their recommended salt intake every day from it being hidden in processed foods. That’s why it’s important to keep your eyes peeled for the names ‘salt’ and ‘sodium’ on packaging and even try and look for ‘reduced salt’ labelling. 

A low-sodium product will contain less than 120g of sodium per 100g. A moderate sugar-containing sodium product will contain 120mg- 600mg of sodium and a high-sodium product will contain more than 600mg of sodium per 100g.

When looking at the nutritional panel, my advice is to choose products with less than 5g of sugar per 100g (if the product contains natural fruit or lactose from milk, cheese, or yoghurt the allowance will be higher) and less than 120mg of sodium per 100g.

Children who crave salt are sometimes lacking in minerals and protein. A great way to transition children of salt-laden store-bought foods is by making healthy version of their favourites like these MindChamps favourites:

Boosted Chicken Nuggets  

MindChamps Global Chief Nutrition Officer Mandy Sacher is Australia’s leading Paediatric Nutritionist, best-selling Author, child nutrition expert, blogger, and mother of two! She is also known for co-developing MEND (Mind Exercise Nutrition Do It!), the world’s largest and most researched childhood obesity prevention and treatment program based in the UK that was developed with over ten years of research. 

Mandy and her Nutrition Team believe in the well-being of all our MindChamps children and that their nutritional needs should be fulfilled in our centres. Mandy’s philosophy is simple – teach children’s taste buds to enjoy nourishing, nutritionally beneficial foods as early as possible to ensure optimal development and establishment of lifelong healthy eating behaviours. Bridging the gaps in food and nutrition, this first-of-its-kind partnership is our commitment to creating and elevating a positive and lasting impact on childhood nutrition on a global level.