It’s important to understand the information provided on the food you buy, including the difference between food labels generally and those on the front of packages. Food labelling regulation is intended to inform us what the packet contains, where it comes from, how it should be stored and when it should be used by.

Front of pack labelling however, is intended to help us choose between products, to guide us about how healthy a product is, the proportion of nutrients (saturated fat, sugar and salt), and whether it should be consumed freely, without caution or, in limited amounts. It also shows the proportion of the daily recommended (adult) intake it contains.

A red label doesn’t mean you can’t eat something, but that it should be eaten infrequently and in small quantities; the fewer products eaten with red labels, generally indicates a healthier diet.

Nutrients indicated with amber labels aren’t particularly high or low, so, as long as they’re eaten with a good balance of green-labelled nutrients, should provide a balanced diet.

Green labels show the lowest content – and proportion – of the nutrient being shown. In general, these will represent the healthiest options and, when eaten with a smaller amount of amber and red labelled products, should help you to make healthier choices.

It’s important to understand that the amounts, and proportions, the labels recommend are based on the nutritional requirements of an average adult woman, doing an average amount of activity.

LIGHT/LITE – What does it mean?

While on the subject of food labels, be careful not to be deceived by terms such as “light”, “lite”, “low fat” or “low sugar”!

For a product to be labelled “light” or “lite” – this indicates that the product is 30% lower in one particular nutrient than the standard product in that manufacturers standard range. It doesn’t mean it is, overall, necessarily healthier (i.e. healthier than a competitors’ standard range). A “lower” fat product might be lower than one in the standard range, but it might still be high fat (more than 17.5g per 100gm). It might sound complicated, but if you compare the nutritional labels and, compare the products by 100gm, not serving size, you will soon get the hang of it.

LOW FAT – how healthy is it?

First of all, it’s important to remember that not all fats are equal!  The body needs some fats to absorb and store certain vitamins.

Fats are categorised as saturated or non-saturated and, while each type contains the same amount of energy (calories), they have different effects.  In general, saturated fats – those that come from animal sources, are recognised to have the potential to contribute to heart disease, high cholesterol and stroke risk.  Unsaturated fats come from plant sources and oily fish, and these can be beneficial for health.

The “low fat” label can only be used when a product contains 3g or less fat per 100g (in solid foods rather than liquids). Using this guidance can help you make healthier choices, but be careful because some products labelled low fat or fat free may be high in sugars which can undermine the benefits of fat reduction. A high fat product will contain more than 17.5g per 100gm.

An adults’ reference daily intake of fat is 70g.

NO ADDED SUGAR – what does this really mean?

This doesn’t mean that the product doesn’t contain sugar, but that sugar has not been added as an ingredient. The product may contain a naturally occurring sugar, such as that which comes from fruit or milk; these items may have a high sugar content and taste very sweet. Natural sugars are not the greatest concern.

The UK government currently recommends a total sugar intake for an adult doesn’t exceed 90g – of which only 30g (approx 7 teaspoons of sugar) come from free sugars (sugars that are added to food and drink). Foods which are high in sugar may contribute to obesity and tooth decay.

INGREDIENTS

These are listed in descending order of weight at the time the product was manufactured.  The higher an item appears in the list of ingredients, the more there is contained in the food.

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