Simply speaking, If it has a label, avoid it!.
The longer the list of ingredients, the further you should stay away. 

A simple way of deciding if the product is healthy or not is the 3 R’s principle

  1. Can you READ and understand all of the ingredients?
  2. Are all of the ingredients REAL food?
  3. Could you REPRODUCE this at home yourself?

Read the ingredients list first, ingredients are listed in order of weight so the ingredient listed first is present in the largest amount. So if sugar is the first ingredient it means that sugar is the main ingredient.

These are some of the words that should send you running:

  • Artificial – anything like colours, flavours and sweeteners
  • Any numbers
  • High fructose corn syrup
  • Ammonium sulfate
  • Carminic acid
  • Sodium benzoate
  • Ammonium sulfate (fertilizer)
  • Sulphites
  • Nitrates
  • Flavour enhancers e.g 621 MSG
  • Gum base (from sheep)
  • L-cystine (hair or duck feathers)
  • LOW FAT – mostly means sugar has been added to replace flavour
  • Sugar  – see below for additional names
  • Bleached white flour
  • Partially Hydrogenated Soybean Oil / Hydrogenated Soybean Oil

You can get a list of food additive names, numbers and common uses from the Food Standards Australia New Zealand food additives webpage http://www.foodstandards.gov.au/consumer/additives/additiveoverview/pages/default.aspx

Nutritional informational panels

Comparing the nutritional information on different food products helps you work out the healthiest choice. All you need to do is see which one has lower saturated fat, lower sodium, lower sugar and higher fibre. When you’re comparing two products, look at the ‘per 100 gm’ information on each, rather than the ‘per serving’ information. This way you can compare the same thing on each product.

Things to look out for: fat, sugar and salt in disguise

Fat might also be called beef fat, butter, shortening, coconut, palm oil, copha, cream, dripping, lard, mayonnaise, sour cream, vegetable oils and fats, hydrogenated oils, full cream milk powder, egg or mono/di/triglycerides.

Sugar might be called brown sugar, corn syrup, dextrose, disaccharides, fructose, glucose, golden syrup, honey, fruit juice concentrate, fruit syrup, lactose, malt, maltose, mannitol, maple syrup, molasses, monosaccharides, raw sugar, sorbitol or xylitol.

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Salt might be listed as baking powder, booster, celery salt, garlic salt, sodium, meat or yeast extract, onion salt, MSG, rock salt, sea salt, sodium bicarbonate, sodium metabisulphite, sodium nitrate, nitrate or stock cubes.

Here is a guideline for optimal levels of fat, sugar, salt, fibre and energy (kJ) per 100g food

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Instead of processed food with labels try to stick to whole foods as much as possible. These are almost anything in the produce sections like fresh fruit and vegetables, meat and fish, nuts and seeds.