Labels on foods provide information to help you to know just what you are buying. They can help you to choose between different types of the same food, and different brand names.
Manufacturers have a legal requirement to provide much of this information. Some additional information is provided voluntarily.
Information which has to be provided by law:
- Name of the food
- Weight or volume (unless it is under 5g)
- Ingredients (in descending order, most abundant first)
- Date mark and storage conditions
- Preparation instructions
- Name and address of manufacturer, packer or seller
- Place (country) of origin
Many food labels have nutrition information on them. This can help you to find out the amount of different nutrients in your food, for example how much salt is in your bag of crisps. You can compare brands and choose the one you think is better.
At the moment food manufacturers are not obliged by law to give nutrition information unless they make a nutrition claim, e.g. ‘low fat’ or ‘high fibre’, but if they do, they must follow certain rules.
The energy value of the food must be presented in kilojoules (kJ) and kilocalories (kcal). We usually refer to kilocalories as calories.
The amount of protein, carbohydrate and fat in grams (g) must be provided. This is referred to as the Big 4.
- Energy (kJ and kcal)
- Protein (g)
- Carbohydrate (g)
- Fat (g)
In addition, the amounts of sugars, saturated fats, fibre and sodium (and how much salt that is equivalent to) may also be given. This is referred to as the Little 4.
Big 4 and Little 4
- Energy (kJ and kcal)
- Protein (g)
- Carbohydrate (g)
- of which: sugars (g)
- Fat (g)
- of which: saturates (g)
- Fibre (g)
- Sodium (mg)
Using Nutrition Information
There are different ways you can use nutrition information to understand more about how a food fits into a healthy diet. You can do simple checks to see if a food is high, low or moderate in fat, sugar or salt. Or you can make use of Guideline Daily Amounts, which are often found on food labels. Or you can use a bit of both. It really depends on what you find most helpful. Some foods now display information about their fat, sugar, salt and fibre content on the front of their packaging.
How do I know if a food is high in fat?
Look at the label to see how much fat a food contains. Generally the label will say how many grams (g) of fat there are in 100g of the food.
Some foods also give a figure for saturated fat, or ‘saturates’. Use the following as a guide to what is a lot and what is a little fat per 100g of food.
This is A LOT of fat:
20g fat or more per 100g
5g saturates or more per 100g
This is A LITTLE fat:
3g fat or less per 100g
1g saturates or less per 100g
If the amount of total fat is between 3g and 20g per 100g, this is a moderate amount of total fat. Between 1g and 5g of saturates is a moderate amount of saturated fat.
Try to choose more foods that only contain a little fat (3g fat or less per 100g) and cut down on foods that contain a lot of fat (20g fat or more per 100g).
How do I know if a food is high in added sugar?
Take a look at the label. The ingredients list always starts with the biggest ingredient first.
But watch out for other words used to describe added sugar, such as sucrose, glucose, fructose, maltose, hydrolysed starch and invert sugar, corn syrup and honey. If you see one of these near the top of the list, you know the food is likely to be high in added sugars.
Another way to get an idea of how much sugar is in a food is to have a look for the 'carbohydrates (of which sugars)' figure on the label. But this figure can't tell you how much is from added sugars, which is the type we should try to cut down on.
10g sugars or more per 100g is A LOT of sugar
2g sugars or less per 100g is A LITTLE sugar
If the amount of sugars is between 2g and 10g per 100g, this is a moderate amount.
Sometimes you will only see a figure for total 'Carbohydrates', not for 'Carbohydrates (of which sugars)', which means the figure also includes the carbohydrate from starchy foods.
How do I know if a food is high in salt?
Salt is often listed as sodium on food labels.
To get the amount of salt in a food multiply the amount of sodium by 2.5 Salt (g) = sodium x 2.5.
Use the following as a guide to what is a lot and what is a little salt (or sodium) per 100g food.
This is A LOT of salt:
1.25g salt or more per 100g
0.5g sodium or more per 100g
This is A LITTLE salt:
0.25g salt or less per 100g
0.1g sodium or less per 100g
Remember we should be aiming for less than 6g of salt each day. Find out more about salt by visiting www.salt.gov.uk.
Manufacturers are not allowed to state or imply that a food can prevent, treat or cure a disease, such as heart disease. However, they may say that the food can have some kind of benefit to health, e.g. “helps maintain a healthy heart” or “calcium is needed for strong bones and teeth” provided there is good scientific evidence to support this claim. If manufacturers make this type of claim, they must be able to prove that the food contains a reasonable amount of the nutrient or food component in question. Foods that make health claims should not mislead the public.
Guideline Daily Amounts
Some labels provide information on Guideline Daily Amounts (GDAs) for adults. GDAs are guidelines for the approximate amounts of energy (calories), fat, saturated fat, sugar, fibre and salt that can be eaten for a healthy diet. For example, you can check the amount of salt in a product to see how much it contributes to the recommended limit for daily salt intake. Because we have different nutritional needs at different stages of our life, GDAs are different for males and females of different ages. The GDAs below are for teenagers. But when you look at food labels, they usually refer to one average set of GDAs for adults. However, these are still a good guide for you to use.
Guideline Daily Amounts for Teenagers and Young Adults
|Age||Energy Calories (kcal)||Fat (g)||Saturated Fat (g)||Fibre (g)||Salt (g)|
As well as appearing in the ingredient list, some foods which are known to cause allergy may be listed again in a box or highlighted in some way to draw attention to their presence, e.g. this product contains MILK.
Some products carry ‘may contain’ warnings on labels to highlight that the food may contain small traces of foods known to cause allergy. This may be because the food is produced on the same production line or in the same factory as other products that contain the food known to cause allergy.
Detailed information (e.g. ‘produced in a factory where nuts are also used’) is more helpful to people with food allergies. It allows them to make informed decisions about the foods they eat.
Organic Foods – What Are These?
Organic refers to foods which have generally been produced according to organic farming methods that work with our environment.. They are foods from plants and animals that have been raised without the use of synthetic or non-approved fertilizers or pesticides, and without the routine use of antibiotics or medicines. They also don’t involve genetic modification (GM).
Food products need to get permission, and follow strict laws, to be labeled organic.