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Understanding food labels

Food labels contain a lot of information that can help you choose healthy foods when shopping and planning meals. Because they contain a lot of information, they can be difficult to understand.

The Ingredients list

Every food package has a list of ingredients in descending order of weight, this means that the ingredient that weighs the most is listed first and the one that weighs the least is listed last. The higher up the list you find sugar or fat, the more the food contains.

Some foods contain a number of different types of sugar or fat. This makes it difficult to identify if the food actually contains large quantities of fat or sugar.

The following are all sugars:

  • fructose
  • maltose
  • sucrose
  • glucose
  • syrup

The following are all fats:

  • animal fat
  • non-milk fat
  • lard
  • butter
  • cocoa butter
  • coconut, coconut oil, coconut cream
  • egg solids and egg yolk solids
  • hydrogenated vegetable fat or oil
  • palm oil and palm kernel oil
  • vegetable oil
  • vegetable shortening and animal shortening
  • whole milk solids

The nutrition facts panel

This normally shows you how many calories and how much protein, fat, carbohydrate and fibre there is in a food. Sometimes the vitamins and minerals in the food are also listed, such as calcium and iron.

The Foods Standards Agency has produced a set of guidelines to help you make sense of food labels:

Per 100g

  a lot a little
Sugars
Fat
Saturated fat
Fibre
Salt
Sodium
10g
20g
5g
3g
1.5g
0.6g
2g
3g
1g
0.5g
0.3g
0.1g

 

In order for you to make realistic and practical choices, Weight Concern suggests looking for the following nutritional values when making food choices. This will enable you to make realistic and practical shopping choices.

Snacks Look for less than 3g fat and less than 8g sugar per serving
Breakfast cereal Look for less than 5g fat and 20g sugar per 100g
Ready Meals Look for less than 10g fat and 350 kcals per portion
Pre-packed sandwiches Look for less than 280 kcal and 6g fat per sandwich pack

FOOD LABEL EXAMPLE

Ingredients highlighted in red indicate sources of sugar

Ingredients highlighted in blue indicate sources of fat

INGREDIENTS
conservation grade oat flakes, blueberry flavoured fruit pieces (sugar, blueberry juice, blueberry extract, cranberries, sunflower oil,) conservation grade oat flour, glucose syrup, honey, vegetable oil, rice flour, raw cane sugar, malt extract, sea salt

 

Nutrition Information    
Typical values per biscuit Per 100g
Energy

Protein
Carbohydrate
of which sugars
of which starches
Fat
of which saturates
of which monounsaturates
of which polyunsaturates
Fibre
sodium
230 kJ
55 kcal
0.7g
7.2g
3.7g
3.5g
2.6g
1.4g
0.8g
0.3g
0.1g
0.1g
2130 kJ
508 kcal
6.2g
67.0g
34.2g
32.9g
23.9g
13.1g
7.7g
2.8g
1.3g
0.3g

 

Highlighted in bold is the information you should compare when deciding if a food is a healthy option. This particular item (a chocolate chip biscuit) contains "a lot" of sugar and "a lot" of fat. This would not be a healthy choice.

Nutrient content claims

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