Understanding food labels

Most pre-packed foods have a nutrition label on the back or side of the packaging. They can help you choose between products, and keep a check on the amount of foods high in fat, salt and sugars that you're eating.

Nutrition labels

These nutrition labels include information on:

  • energy (kilo joules (kj) Calories (kcal))
  • fat
  • saturates
  • carbohydrate
  • sugars
  • protein
  • salt

Nutrition information is provided per 100g and sometimes per portion of the food.

You can use nutrition labels to help you choose a more balanced diet.

There are guidelines to tell you if a food is high in fat, saturated fat, salt or sugar. These are:

Total fat

High - more than 17.5g of fat per 100g
Low - 3g of fat or less per 100g

Saturated fat

High - more than 5g of saturated fat per 100g
Low - 1.5g of saturated fat or less per 100g

Sugar

High - more than 22.5g of total sugar per 100g
Low - 5g of total sugar or less per 100g

Salt

High - more than 1.5g of salt per 100g
Low - 0.3g of salt or less per 100g (or 0.1g sodium)

For example, if you are trying to cut down on saturated fat, you should limit the amount you eat of foods that have more than 5g of saturated fat per 100g.

Some nutrition labels on the back or side of packaging also provide information about Daily Reference Intakes (RIs) formerly known as Guideline Daily Amounts.

Nutrition labels on the front of packaging

All the big supermarkets and many food manufacturers also display nutritional information on the front of pre-packed food. This is very useful when you want to compare different food products at a glance.

Front of pack labels usually give a quick guide to:

  • energy (kilo joules (kj)/ calories (kcal))
  • fat
  • saturates
  • sugar
  • salt

These labels provide information on the number of grams of fat, saturated fat, sugars and salt and the number of kilo joules and calories in a serving or portion of the food.

Daily Reference Intakes (RIs)

Nutrition labels can also provide information on how a particular food or drink product fits into your daily diet.

Daily Reference Intakes (RIs) are guidelines about the approximate amount of particular nutrients and calories required for a healthy diet.

Because individual requirements for calories and nutrients are different for all people, RIs are not intended as targets. Instead they give a useful indication of how a particular nutrient or amount of energy fits into your daily diet.

Colour coding

Some front of pack nutrition labels use red, amber and green colour coding.

Colour coding tells you at a glance if the food has high, medium or low amounts of fat, saturated fat, sugars and salt.

  • red means the food or drink is high in this nutrient - try having these less often and in small amounts
  • amber means medium - you can have foods and drinks with all or mostly ambers most of the time
  • green means low - in short, the more greens, the healthier choice

A red means the food is high in fat, saturated fat, salt or sugars and these are the foods you should eat less often and in small amounts.

Ingredients list

Most pre-packed food products also have a list of ingredients on the packaging or on an attached label. The ingredients list can also help you work out how healthy the product is.

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