Why you should always check your food labels

Checking nutrition labels on the foods you eat helps you to keep track of the amount of nutrients, fats, salts and sugars you’re having to help you to live a healthier lifestyle.

Most food items have a traffic light label system on the front of the pack. The green, amber and red labels highlight the amount of fat, sugar and salt in the recommended portion of that food item. Sticking with green and amber coloured labels indicate a lower percentage, whereas red labels indicate a high percentage and should only be enjoyed once in a while as part of a healthy balanced diet.

Food labels also contain energy information in kilojoules (kJ) and kilocalories (kcal), often referred to as calories. The nutrition information is provided per 100 grams or per portion of the food.

Children should get most of their calories from their breakfast, lunch and dinner and should be given one to two less than 100 calorie snack items per day. In England, children are eating an extra 2,800 sugar cubes a year which is more than double the recommended guidelines.

Daily reference intakes for adults are:

  • Energy: 8,400kJ/2,000kcal
  • Total fat: less than 70g
  • Saturates: less than 20g
  • Carbohydrate: at least 260g
  • Total sugars: 90g
  • Protein: 50g
  • Salt: less than 6g

These are not targets to be aimed for each day, but they provide a rough guidance of how much energy you should be consuming a day.

When checking your food, it is also important to check the ingredient list to see how healthy the products are and what the main ingredients are. This is also important in case of any allergies such as eggs, nuts and soya.

Knowing what a balanced diet is, will help you when checking your nutrition label and decide what food to choose.

What a balanced diet consists of:

  • Eating at least five portions of fruit and vegetables every day.
  • When having starchy carbohydrates such as potatoes, bread, rice and pasta, try to choose wholegrain options or products that are high in fibre.
  • Any dairy you have should be low in fat and sugar.
  • Proteins such as beans, fish, eggs and meat, aim to have at least one portion of oily fish every week
  • Try to drink plenty of water, the government recommends six to eight cups a day

‘Lower fat’ labels

‘Lower fat’ labels on food can be misleading. A product that has labelled lower fat, reduced fat, lite or light are products that contain 30% less fat than a similar product. Although, if the product is a high in fat product, the lower fat version may also still be high in fat. Also, lower in fat does not mean a reduced amount of calories. This is because the fat can be replaced with sugar or a similar energy content.