Food Labels

Web Resource Last Updated: 05-10-2020

 Contents

Nutritional information on the front of packaging 

Food labels provide the information you need to make healthy and informed food choices.

To help you make a quick decision, most of the big supermarkets and food manufacturers have added a label to the front of their food packaging. This label will give you a quick guide to the amount of energy (kJ and kcal), fat, saturates, sugars and salt in a serving or portion of the food. However, it is important to remember that the manufacturer’s idea of a portion may differ from yours.

An example of a food label on the front of packaging featuring the traffic light system

Colour-coded nutritional information, as shown in the image above, tells you at a glance if the food has high, medium or low amounts of fat, saturates, sugars and salt.

Red = High

This food will be high in fat, saturates, salt or sugar. These are fine to have occasionally but you should try to avoid choosing foods with red on the label too often.

Amber = Medium

This means neither high nor low, so foods with all or mostly amber on the label are fine most of the time.

Green = Low

The more green on the label the healthier the food, so foods with all or mostly green are always a good choice.

Many foods will have a mixture of colours on them. To make the healthiest choice, go for more ambers and greens and fewer reds. The shopping card below can help to guide you.

shopping card with the traffic light system

Nutritional information on the back of packaging

Nutrition labels are often displayed as a panel or grid on the back of food packaging. As with the front packaging, the information listed will include the amount of energy (kJ and kcal), fat, saturates, carbohydrates, fibre, protein and salt.

For example, the chart below shows the nutritional information on a loaf of white bread.

 Traditional food label found on food packaging

Reference intakes 

You will see reference intakes referred to on both front and back food labels. These are guidelines based on the approximate amount of nutrients and energy the average person needs for a healthy, balanced approach to eating each day.

Reference intakes are not intended as targets, as energy and nutrient requirements are different for everyone. But they give a useful indication of how much energy the average person needs and how a particular nutrient fits into your daily diet.

The reference intakes for an average-sized adult doing an average amount of physical activity are as follows:

  • Energy: 8,400 kj/2,000 kcal
  • Total fat: 70 g
  • Saturates: 20 g
  • Carbohydrate: 260 g
  • Total sugars: 90 g
  • Protein: 50 g
  • Salt: 6 g

Health claims on labels: what they mean 

Health claims on labels can mean different things on different products, which can be confusing. The list below provides information that can help you understand common health claims that you will find on food labels.

Sugar

No added sugar/Unsweetened

No sugar has been added to the product. It may however contain naturally occurring sugars, e.g. fructose (fruit sugar) in orange juice or lactose (milk sugar) in milk products. If this is the case the label should say ‘contains naturally occurring sugars’.

Low-sugar

The product must contain less than 5 g of sugar per 100 g, or 2.5 g of sugar per 100 ml.

Reduced-sugar

The product must contain 30% less sugar than the standard equivalent product. This does not mean the product is always low in sugar.

Sugar-free

The product must contain no more than 0.5 g of sugar per 100 g or 100 ml.

Fat 

High fat: total fat

The product contains more than 17.5 g of fat per 100 g or 8.75 g per 100 ml.

High fat: saturated

The product contains more than 5 g of saturated fat per 100 g or 2.5 g per 100 ml.

Low fat: total fat

The product must contain no more than 3 g fat per 100 g or 1.5 g per 100 ml.

Low fat: saturated fat

The product must contain no more than 1.5 g of saturated fat per 100 g or 0.75 g per 100 ml.

Reduced-fat

The product must contain at least 30% less fat than the standard equivalent product.

Fat-free

The product must contain no more than 0.5 g fat per 100 g or 100 ml.

Less than 5% fat/95% fat-free

The product must contain less than 5 g of fat per 100 g or 100 ml. This does not mean the product is always low in fat.

Salt 

High in salt

The product contains more than 1.5 g of salt per 100 g (0.6 g sodium).

Low in salt

The product must contain less than 0.3 g of salt per 100 g (0.1 g sodium).

Fibre

Source of fibre

The product contains at least 3 g of fibre per 100 g.

High in fibre

The product contains at least 6 g of fibre per 100 g.

Useful resources

You can read more about sugar, fat, salt, fibre and carbohydrates on the NHS website.

The UK Government website has information on food labelling here.

The British Dietetic Association has a leaflet with information about food labelling here.

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