There is a lot of information given on food labels, which can be a bit confusing.
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They include things like the brand and contact details, storage instructions, exactly what the product is, its weight, the ingredients, its nutritional breakdown and how long it is safe to eat ( – scroll down for info on Best Before date, etc.).
Checking the label is particularly useful if you have an allergy or intolerance (– scroll down until you find it below), or if you’re trying to eat a healthier diet. You can check the amount of calories, fat, sugar and salt and compare the labels to help you choose between two similar products, e.g. 125g pot of low fat fruit yoghurt compared to a 120g pot.
For example, these pots are of similar size and have the same amount of calories (Kcal).
The 125g pot has:
- 1.3g fat
- 15.4g sugar
- 0.2g salt
The 120g pots has:
- 2.5g fat
- 14.8g sugar
- 0.12g salt
Looking at these pots, it’s maybe difficult to decide which would be the best option, because the bigger pot has less fat but more sugar and salt. But if you compare the labels per 100g………
125g pot per 100g:
- 1g fat
- 12.3g sugar
- 0.1g salt
120g pot per 100g:
- 2.1g fat
- 12.3g sugar
- 0.1g salt
As you can see, the calories are similar, they have the same amount of salt and sugar, but the bigger pot has less fat, so you could choose the bigger pot.
But then you may wonder if these are actually a healthy option….
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… Back to checking if these yoghurts are a healthy option….
Looking at the labels per 100g (and per portion), you can see that they are low in fat (as less than 3g) and low in salt (as less than 0.3g), and medium amount of sugar (as between 5 and 22.5g). So actually, both of these yoghurts would be okay.
If you’re trying to manage your weight, look for options that fall in the lower end (green on the food label) for fats and sugar.
Front of Pack Labels
Traffic Light System
The picture of the label, shows the traffic light system, highlighting which nutrient falls into which category; either high (red), medium (amber) or low (green).
The aim of this system is to help consumers, quickly and easily, choose items that are healthier i.e. predominantly have a green label.
The traffic light system is only voluntary, so manufacturers don’t have to use this on their labels.
Reference Intake (RI)
As you will see in the label above, it states percentages of reference intakes. These RI values are based on an average-sized woman doing an average amount of activity per day. The aim of this is to provide a consistent message and limit risk of people consuming too much – to try to help towards reducing levels of obesity in the UK.
RI per day:
- Energy: 2000KCal/8,400 kJ
- Total fat: 70g
- Saturates: 20g
- Carbohydrate: 260g
- Total sugar: 90g
- Protein: 50g
- Salt: 6g
- Example: In the label above, it shows the 30g portion of cereal will provide the average adult with 6% towards the total day’s allowance (RI) for sugar.
Labels on the Back or Side of Packaging
UK food labels now have a different order of typical values. The Scott’s rolled oats picture is the updated version, … and in case you were trying to remember what it used to look like:
- Carbohydrates (of which sugars)
- Fat (of which saturates)
- Fibre Salt
This is a list of all the ingredients in the order, starting with the highest quantity ingredient first, down to the lowest. So if sugar and fat were at the start of the list, then this item would be a more unhealthy option and high in calories.
If a product contains any of the 14 following allergens, the food label must clearly identify them and list them in the ingredients. In the ingredient list, they will be highlighted in bold, italic or underlined.
- cereals containing gluten – including wheat, rye, barley and oats
- crustaceans – including prawns, crab and lobster
- molluscs – including squid, mussels, cockles, whelks and snails
- sesame seeds
- soya beans
- sulphur dioxide or sulphites at levels above 10mg per kilogram or per litre
Best Before date:
- Past its best – can be eaten after this date but would not be of the same quality as before this date
- Usually marked on items that can be kept longer, such as store-cupboard items e.g. tinned foods, breakfast cereal, gravy granules
Use By date:
- Use before this date
- Used on perishable items, such as packaged salads, soft cheeses, chilled meats and sandwiches
- This is to help prevent consumers eating unsafe food
Sell By date:
- Usually dated a few days before the Use By date, to allow the product to be consumed before it has to be thrown away
Nutrition and Health Claims
Nutrition and health claims on food and drink labels are regulated so manufacturers are not allowed to make false claims about their product – it has to be supported by scientific evidence.
I hope this has cleared a few things up about food labels. If not, why not send me a message!
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