Food labels explained


Food labels explained in 3 simple steps Did you know that a study by Label Insight found that 35 per cent of us are confused by food labels? This could mean many of us are at risk of making unhealthy choices.

When you’re out shopping, do you take a look at the labels on the packaging? It can be tempting to simply pop whatever you fancy in your basket without giving a thought to what’s inside it, but taking the time to read the labels helps you find out exactly what you’re eating and how healthy it is for you.

Face Forward

The red, amber and green coloured label on the front of food packaging is a great at-a-glance guide to whether a food is healthy or not. Remember, though, that a manufacturer’s idea of a portion may not match yours so keep this in mind when reading the label. Using a handy traffic lights system, red means high; amber, medium; green, low, clearly allows you to see what is good for you and what you should only have on occasions. According to NHS Choices, “The more green on the label, the healthier the choice.




If you buy a food that has all or mostly green on the label, you know straight away that it’s a healthier option. Amber means neither high nor low, so you can eat foods with all or mostly amber on the label most of the time. But any red on the label means the food is high in fat, saturated fat, salt or sugars and these are the foods we should cut down on. Try to eat these foods less often and in small amounts.”

Turn Over

On the back or side of food packaging, you’ll find a grid or panel with more detailed nutritional information, letting you know how much energy, fat, saturates, carbohydrate, sugars, protein and salt is contained in the food, as well as nutrients such as fibre. NHS Choices offers these guidelines to help make these values a little less daunting: If you are trying to cut down on saturated fat, for example, limit your consumption of foods that have more than 5g of saturated fat per 100g. Many pre-packed foods contain an ingredients list on the packaging which is arranged in order of weight, so you’ll find the main ingredients first. If high-fat ingredients, such as butter or cream, are at the beginning of the list, then this particular food will be high in fat, too.

What's What 

Understanding the key areas to take into account is an important part of leading a balanced, healthy diet, so we’ve simplified them for you:

Energy The terms ‘kJ’ and ‘kcal’ (calories) tell you how much energy is in a product. Women need 2,000 cal a day and men 2,500 cal, on average.

Saturates Cutting down on the amount of saturated fat we are eating and choosing unsaturated sources will help to lower cholesterol levels. For example, try swapping out butter for an unsaturated fat spread.


Most of us are still eating more salt than the recommended maximum of 6g a day, increasing the risk of high blood pressure – a key risk factor in the development of heart disease.

Sugars On average, we are eating more sugar than recommended and high-sugar diets tend to be high in energy, which is important when it comes to our weight. Sugar can be added to both sweet and savoury products, so look carefully and keep an eye on the amount in your drinks, too, as this can add up.

Reference Intake Often written as RI, Reference Intakes are useful guidelines on the amount of energy and nutrients an average person needs each day. The %RI tells you how much of your daily healthy maximum is in the portion of the product.

The Reference Intakes for an adult each day are:

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

BlogClaire Edwards