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  • Writer's pictureNicole Musuwo

Understanding food labels

Updated: Jul 19, 2023

Nutrition labels are a great tool to compare nutrition profiles of food and drinks. By law, the majority of pre-packaged products provide a nutrition label at the back of pack, however, nutrition labels can also be found on the front of pack or side of a product.

What information is provided

Nutrition labels display information on key nutrients in a product, including energy in calories (kcal) or kilojoule (kj), fat content, saturated fat, carbohydrate, sugars, protein and salt. This information is displayed per 100g/100ml of the product, per portion/serving size and/or as a percentage of the reference intake (RI).

Daily RIs are based on the average recommended intake for men (2500kcal) or women (2000kcal). However, individual energy requirements may vary due activity levels.

Nutrition labels can also contain additional voluntary information on vitamins and minerals in the product. If a claim is made about a nutrient on the front of pack, the amount in the product must be given in the nutrition label i.e. if a product is a “high in Vitamin C”, the Vitamin C content must be provided on the label.

Interpreting labels

The following is a handy guide on how foods are classified as low or high in fat, sugar or salt, as per 100g of a product. This may be presented as a traffic light on the front-of-pack on some products, with red being high, amber being medium and green being low.

Low Medium High

Fat (per 100g) <3g 3-17.5g >17.5g

Saturated Fat (per 100g) <1.5g 1.5-5g >5g

Sugar (per 100g) <5g 5-22.5g >22.5g

Salt (per 100g) <0.3g 0.3-1.5g >1.5g

Food/drinks which are high in saturated fat, sugar and/or salt should be consumed less often and in smaller amounts.

For a product to be considered a source or high in fibre, the fibre content must be more than 3g/100g or more than 6g/100g, respectively. A claim that a food is a source of protein may only be made where at least 12% of the energy value of the food is provided by protein, whilst a high in protein product means at least 20% of the energy value of the food is provided by protein.

Nutrition labels can help us to make healthier choices when shopping. Using the nutrition information per 100g or per 100ml can help us to compare between foods/drinks. Aim to choose food and drinks which are green-amber (low-medium) in saturated fat, sugar and salt more often than those which are high in saturated fat, sugar and/or salt.

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