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Understanding Food Labeling

You're standing in a supermarket aisle looking at two similar products, trying to decide which to choose. You want to make the healthier choice but, as usual, you're in a hurry.

Food labels can be very confusing with all their different terms and symbols, so interactive labels have been developed to help you work your way round them.

With traffic light colours, you can see at a glance if the food you're looking at has high, medium or low amounts of each of these nutrients in 100g of the food.


Red
= High

Amber = Medium

Green = Low

Many of the foods with traffic light colours that you see in the shops will have a mixture of red, amber and greens. So, when you're choosing between similar products, try to go for more greens and ambers, and fewer reds, if you want to make the healthier choice.

Red light on the front of the pack, you know the food is high in something we should be trying to cut down on. It's fine to have the food occasionally, or as a treat, but try to keep an eye on how often you choose these foods, or try eating them in smaller amounts.

Amber, you know the food isn't high or low in the nutrient, so this is an OK choice most of the time, but you might want to go for green for that nutrient some of the time.
Green means the food is low in that nutrient. The more green lights, the healthier the choice.

You will also see the number of grams of fat, saturated fat, salt and sugar in what the manufacturer or retailer suggests as a serving of the food.

If we want to eat a healthy diet, one of the key things we should be doing is trying to cut down on fat (especially saturated fat), salt and added sugars. The daily guideline amounts for the most important nutrients listed on food labels are:

Nutrients Men Women
Fat (total) 95g 70g
of which saturates 30g 20g
Salt 7g 5g
Sugar 70g 50g
Fibre 20g 16g
 
The following list provides some examples of nutrition claims and what they mean for energy, fat, sugar, salt and fibre.

Energy
  • Low energy The product does not contain more than 40kcal per 100g and/or more than 20kcal per 100ml.
  • Energy-reduced The energy value of the product is reduced by a minimum of 30% of the nutrient contained in the food compared with the normal product, i.e. the standard version of the product, for which no claim is made'.
  • Energy-free The product does not contain more than 4kcal per 100ml.
Fat
  • Low Fat The product contains no more than 3g of fat per 100g or 1.5g of fat per 100ml.
  • Fat-free The product contains no more than 0.5g of fat per 100g or 100ml.
  • Low saturated fat The product contains no more than 1.5g of saturated fat and trans-fatty acids per 100g or 0.75g per 100mls
  • Free of saturated fat The product contains no more than 0.1g of saturated fat and trans-fatty acids per 100g or 100ml.
Sugar
  • Low sugars - The product contains no more than 5g of sugars per 100g or 2.5g of sugars per 100ml.
Fibre
  • Source of fibre - The product contains at least 3g of fibre per 100g or at least 1.5g of fibre per 100kcal.
  • High fibre - The product contains at least 6g of fibre per 100g or at least 3g of fibre per 100kcal.
Traffic light colours can help you get the balance right by helping you to choose between products and keep a check on the high-fat, high-sugar and high-salt foods you eat. You can use the signpost labeling to help put you in control, so keep a look out for the colours on the front of food packs. Although the retailers' and manufacturers' packs look different, the red, amber or green lights mean exactly the same thing.

Sources:
The British Heart Foundation
Food Agency Standard







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