I thought this month, I’d chat about food labels… I’m sure you are on the edge of your seat with excitement but these are your friends when it comes to making healthy choices!
Where do you start?
By law, packaged products need to have accurate nutritional information, a list of ingredients (If there are 2 or more ingredients) and any allergen information.
The ingredients list is commonly found on the back of packaging and all of the ingredients used must be included. Ingredients are listed in order of weight, with the ingredient used most at the top (so the Snickers bar above is not surprisingly mostly milk chocolate, followed by peanuts with lots of other ingredients added).
Consumers might have allergies or intolerances to an ingredient. By law, food must show if any of the following 14 allergens are an ingredient and be emphasised in some way. See below for the list of allergens included:
celery, cereals containing gluten (such as barley and oats), crustaceans (such as prawns, crabs and lobsters), eggs, fish, lupin, milk, molluscs (such as mussels and oysters), mustard, peanuts, sesame, soybeans, sulphur dioxide and sulphites (at a concentration of more than ten parts per million) and tree nuts (such as almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts, brazil nuts, cashews, pecans, pistachios and macadamia nuts).
A product might write ‘May Contain’ then the ingredient that might be present. This is because some products that don’t have an allergen in the ingredients might be manufactured in the same area of others that do and cross-contamination can occur.
You may have seen in the news about some products that have been produced and packaged for direct sale (think about buying a pre-prepared and packaged sandwich in a café that does not make their own). This food does not by law have to list the ingredients and allergens on their products but from 1st October 2021, this will change. This will make it easier to those with allergies to make safer purchases. If you have an allergy to a food ingredient, it is always safer to ask and avoid buying if not sure.
This type of label includes information on energy (kJ/kcal), fat, saturates (saturated fat), carbohydrate, sugars, protein and salt.
It may also provide additional information on certain nutrients, such as fibre and some vitamins and minerals if in significant amounts. All nutritional information is provided per 100 grams and sometimes per portion.
But how do you know what is high in fat, sugar and salt?
It is a good idea to have an awareness of the numbers on nutritional labels and what they mean.
‘Energy’ = calories per 100g or per portion.
‘Fat’ = Total fat in the product (total of saturated, mono and polyunsaturated fat together)
‘Of which saturates’ = just the saturated fat content (the stuff we want to limit in our diet!)
‘Protein’ = protein (obviously!)
Salt (sometimes labeled as sodium) = salt or sodium.
Of which saturates
3g or less
5g or less
1.5g or less
0.3g or less
3.1 to 17.5g or less
5.1g to 22.5g
1.6g to 5g
0.3 to 1.5g
More than 17.5g
More than 22.5g
More than 5g
More than 1.5g
Sodium: you might notice that salt is sometimes written as sodium on packaging.
To convert sodium to salt, you need to multiply the sodium amount by 2.5. For example 1g of sodium per 100g is 2.5 grams of salt per 100g. Adults should eat no more than 6g salt (which is 2.4g of sodium) per day.
Traffic Light Symbols
Many products nowadays have something called the ‘Traffic Light’ symbol on the front of their packaging. By law, companies do not have to display a traffic light symbol on food but many products do.
This is a quick and easy way of finding out if the product is a healthier option. They show the amount of calories, fat and saturated fat, sugars and salt in the product per serving.
Rule of thumb…
ü Foods with green and amber are fine to be eaten every day
ü Foods with red on the symbol should be eaten as an occasional treat as these contain high amounts of any of the listed dietary elements (sugar, fats and salt).
ü Some foods such as oily fish (tinned mackerel or fresh salmon, for example) will show red in the fats section but so long as the saturates are low, it is fine to eat as these foods are high is monounsaturated fat (heart healthy fats).
ü Remember to stick to the portion sizes! If you eat double the amount recommended, you will be increasing the amount of sugar, salt or fat you are consuming and your healthy option you chose may no longer be as healthy as you think!
To help you make sense of the traffic light symbols, ‘NHS Change 4 Life’ have a handy free app that you can download onto your mobile (available for both iOS as well as Android). You can scan the bar code whilst out shopping and it shows you the traffic light symbol and if it is a healthy choice.