The Kitchen

Nutrition Labelling

Food labels provide a lot of useful information about what foods and drinks contain. Understanding nutrition labelling can help you to make more informed choices about your diet and keep an eye on how often you are eating foods high in fat, sugar and salt.

In the UK, most pre-packed foods must display information on the following per 100g or 100mls of a product:

  • Energy in both kilocalories (kcal) and Kilojoules (kj)
  • Fat and Saturated Fat (g)
  • Total Carbohydrates and Sugars (g)
  • Protein (g)
  • Salt (may also be listed as Sodium) (g)

This information is often displayed per portion, but this is not legally required. Some manufacturers also include information on fibre, vitamin, minerals and other nutrients. This information is voluntary, unless a nutrition or health claim has been made about a specific nutrient.

The amount of energy in food and drink is measured in calories. You can use the calorie information on food labels to assess how a particular food fits into your daily calorie intake to ensure you're not consuming too much.  

Sugars on the nutrition label describes the total amount of sugars in a product. This includes free sugars, plus naturally occurring sugars such as those found in fruit, veg and milk. In the UK, we typically eat too much free sugars. Although, the label doesn't state the number of free sugars in a food it is still useful to compare products and opt for foods that are lower in sugar overall. 

Checking the ingredients list can indicate if a product contains a lot of added sugars. 

Some labels will include information on the Vitamins and Mineral content of foods. These are micronutrients your body needs to work properly and stay healthy. Most people following a balanced diet will get all the vitamins and minerals they need.

The fat content includes all types of fat. We should be aiming to cut down on saturated fats in our diets and opt for more unsaturated fats. The saturated fat content is also displayed on the food label so we can compare products and choose those with less. 

Front of pack labels 

Although not mandatory front-of–pack (FOP) labelling has been voluntarily introduced by most UK retailors and many manufacturers. The FOP labels focus on nutrients that are important to keep an eye on for health. 

Most front of pack labels will include information on energy (in kj and kcal), grams of fat, saturated fat, sugar and salt in a portion. Occasionally FOP labels will only include information on energy. 

Many FOP labels use the traffic light system to visually display if a food is high, medium or low in fat, saturated fat, sugar and salt. With red indicating a food is high in a nutrient and green low. 

Be aware that food suppliers can decide on the portion sizes on a label. This is often less than what’s inside the pack or smaller than you would like. If you do eat extra, you’ll consume more than the label says. 

Each burger (94g) contains

Energy

 

924kj

220Kcal

11%

Fat

 

13g

 

19%

Saturates

 

5.9g

 

30%

Sugar

 

0.8g

 

<1%

Salt

 

0.7g

 

12%

of an adults reference intake

Typical values (as sold) per 100g: Energy 966kj/230kcal

  • Reference intake percentages show how much a serving contributes to the maximum daily amount recommended for a healthy diet, based on an average woman  
  • The more green on the label, the healthier the choice.
  • You can eat foods with all or mostly amber regularly
  • Red indicates these foods should be eaten less often/in small amounts.

 There are guidelines to tell you if a food is high in fat, saturated fat, salt, sugar or not:

 

Low

High

Fat

≤3g / 100g

>17.5g/100g

Saturated Fat

≤ 1.5g /100g

>5g/100g

Sugars

≤5g/100g

>22.5g/100g

Salt

≤0.3g/100g

>1.5g/100g

 

Some foods that are high in calories or fat can still be a healthy option when eaten in moderation. For example, nuts have a high fat content and will have red on the label.  In most nuts this is mainly due to the unsaturated fat content. There's good evidence that replacing saturated fats with some unsaturated fats can help to lower your cholesterol level.

Nutrition and health claims 

In the UK, nutrition and health claims on food labels are tightly controlled so consumers are not misled about the benefits of a food product. No food product in the UK can claim it will aid weight loss or treat a health issue.

 Two types of claims can be included on food labels:

  • Nutrition claims - ‘low fat’ or ‘high fibre’
  • Health claims - ‘Calcium is needed to maintain strong bones’

Companies spend huge amounts on marketing their products to influence our perception of how healthy foods are and to encourage us to choose their product over another. A nutrition or health claim will usually only refer to one nutrient in a product to emphasise the health benefits. We can’t always take these at face value. The overall nutritional value of a product might not be the same as what we perceive from the label.  It is important to read the nutrition label and ingredients list to get a full picture of what is provided by a product.

Sugar free/No added sugar 

‘Sugar-free’ means there is less than 0.5g of sugar per 100mls/g in a product. 

‘No added sugars’ means no sugar has been added during processing but may contain naturally occurring sugar. This means ‘no added sugar’ fruit smoothies could actually contain more sugar than a can of coke. 

Fat free

‘Fat- Free’ means there is no more than 0.5g of fat per 100mls/g in a product. As reducing fat can impact flavour, sugar may be added to compensate. Check the food label for sugar content in ‘fat-free’ products. 

Reduced/light

For a product to claim it is ‘lighter’ or reduced fat/sugar it must contain at least 30 per cent less fat/ sugar than similar products. This doesn’t always indicate a product is healthy and these products may still be classed as a high sugar or high fat food. For example, a lower fat mayonnaise may contain 30% less fat than the standard version, but it's still high in fat.

Less fat/sugar doesn’t always mean lower in calories. Sometimes the fat is replaced with sugar or vice versa and may end up having a similar energy content to the regular version.

High protein 

At least 20% of calories must come from protein for a food to display a ‘high protein’ claim. This can rule out some protein rich foods like nuts and nut butters. Remember to check for high fat and sugar content as well.

High fibre

A claim that a food is high in fibre can be made if it contains at least 6g fibre per 100g or 3g per 100kcals. In the UK adults should aim for 30g fibre, daily. 

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