Food labelling can help us make an informed decision when shopping, but understanding the labels can be difficult.
Colour-coded front-of-pack labelling is a simple way to decode a nutrition label, it tells you at a glance if the food has high (red), medium (amber) or low (green) amounts of fat, saturated fat, sugars and salt.
Back-of-pack information can still give you the same information, and can also provide more detail about the product’s nutritional content and the ingredients inside. Using the per 100g column on the nutrition information table (instead of per portion) is the fairest way to compare products nutritionally, because otherwise it can be hard to tell whether the differences you see are due to a different portion size rather than the actual content of the product.
The most important ones to look at are total fat, saturated fat, sugar and salt – these are the “big four” that most affect our weight and blood pressure, contributing to our risk of coronary heart disease and stroke. But you can also compare other nutrients to make healthier choices, including the proportion of unsaturated fats (the healthier kind of fats) and fibre.
Here our top tips to understanding the nutritional information on food labels:
This is where many people get caught out. A serving size is usually less than most people eat. If you eat two servings, make sure you double the calories and all the daily values. When comparing foods, make sure the serving sizes are same. This is why recommend you compare foods on their ‘per 100g’ ingredients, rather than per portion.
A calorie is a measure of energy use. Also listed is the number of calories from fat.
Goal: No more than 30% of your calories should come from fat.
% Daily Value
This shows how much of the recommended amounts of these nutrients are in one serving (Based on a 2,000-calorie diet). These percentages make it easy to compare one brand with another. Just make sure again that the serving size is the same.
Goal: To eat no more than 100% of each nutrient daily
This lists the total amount of fat in one serving. Try to limit the amount of saturated fat and trans-fat you eat. Fat has a lot of calories and it’s important to check whether the fat is saturated or unsaturated. Unsaturated fats, found in foods like avocado, nuts, seeds, oily fish and vegetable oils, are better for your heart health than saturated fats, found in butter, fatty meats, pastry, biscuits and cakes. Too much saturated fat can increase our cholesterol, which increases risk of coronary heart disease
Low fat means: 3g or less per 100g
High fat means: 17.5g or more per 100g
Low saturated fat means: 1.5g or less per 100g
High saturated fat means: 5g or more per 100g
Note that Reduced-fat or low-fat versions of foods aren’t always the healthiest options. Sometimes manufacturers replace fat with sugar, which isn’t a healthier choice. Read the nutrition information to compare sugar and fat content on the original and the reduced-fat product.
Try to consume less than 300mg each day.
Too much salt can increase your blood pressure over time, which can increase the risk of developing heart disease and stroke. Watch out, because some products label sodium instead of salt – you need to multiply the sodium amount by 2.5 to work out the salt content. Try to eat less than 2400mg of sodium (salt) per day.
These help give you energy. You’ll find them in bread, pasta, potatoes, fruits and vegetables.
Good sources of fibre include fruits, vegetables, whole grains and beans.
Goal: Try to eat 20 to 35mg of fibre per day.
Protein helps build muscle. It is found in meat, nuts, eggs, fish and dry beans. Try to eat lean cuts of meat.
Vitamins and Minerals
This shows you how much of the recommended daily amount of certain vitamins and minerals are in the food. Goal to reach 100% for each vitamin and mineral every day.
Here you can see the recommended daily amount for each nutrient for 2 calorie levels: a 2,000 calorie (women) and 2,500 calories (men) daily diet. Your recommended daily calories may be higher or lower depending on your age, gender and how active you are. However, notice that the recommended amount of sodium and cholesterol are the same no matter how many calories you eat a day.