Food labels: helping you make healthier choices

Nutrition Team

When it comes to clothes, labels are everything, daaarling! When it comes to food, the story is not so different. With increasing interest in healthy eating and better nutrition, many manufacturers provide nutritional information and make health claims on their products.

Nutritional labelling allows us to compare the nutrient content of different food products and subsequently make healthier choices. However, surveys have shown that nutrition labels are less than clear. That’s why we’re here to help you answer the question - what does it all mean?

Did you know:

- It is not compulsory for food companies to provide nutritional information unless a health claim such as ‘low in fat’ or ‘high in fibre’ is made.

- All nutritional information must be given per 100g or per 100ml of food. For example, an average can of soup contains just over 400ml, therefore, will contain four times the amount of nutrients listed per 100ml.

There are two ways in which nutritional information can be presented on food labels.

‘Big 4’

‘Big 4’ plus the ‘Little 4’
‘Big 4' plus:

Energy is usually listed in both kilocalories and kilojoules and these are just two different units to measure the energy in food. One kilocalorie (equivalent to 4.2 kilojoules) is commonly shortened to just ‘calorie’ and is the measurement that most people are familiar with.

Protein, fat and carbohydrates are usually listed in grams but do be careful to read the units. Fat content is sometimes listed as a percentage by weight, which is the same as grams per 100g. This is not the same as percentage by energy – the percentage of energy from a food that is contributed by fat.

General health recommendations are for less than 35% of energy to come from fat (all our meal plans are less than 30% of energy from fat) so do be careful when reading fat content on nutrition labels and try to get into the habit of checking both the amount of fat and the number of calories in particular before you buy any food.

Sometimes manufacturers will provide much more information, for example on fortified foods like breakfast cereals, or where a nutrient is particularly abundant in that food, like vitamin C in orange juice or calcium in milk. If a manufacturer makes a health claim about a particular nutrient, they must list the quantity that is contained in the food, and this amount must meet the criterion for the health claim. The health claims that are recognised by the health authorities are these:

Health claims and what they mean:

Low Fat / 95 % Fat Free
Less than 5g fat in 100g

Low in Saturates
Less than 3g saturated fat in 100g

Virtually Fat Free
Less than 0.3g fat in 100g

Reduced Fat
At least 25% less fat than standard product

Low Sugar
Less than 5g sugar in 100g

Sugar Free
No added or naturally occurring sugar

No Added Sugar
No extra sugar added

Reduced Sugar
At least 25% less sugar than standard product

High Fibre
At least 6g fibre in 100g

Source of Fibre
At least 3g fibre in 100g

Reduced Sodium (salt)
At least 25% less sodium than standard product

Low Calorie / Diet
Less than 40 calories in 100g or 100ml

Understanding nutrition labels really can help you make smart choices in the supermarket. So next time you’re shopping for food, have a good read – your health is important and sometimes improving it can be as simple as ABC.

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