Packed foods have a nutrition label on the back or side of the packaging. These labels include information on energy in kilojoules (kJ) and kilocalories (kcal), usually referred to as calories. They also specify the amount of fat, saturates (saturated fat), carbohydrate, sugars, protein and salt. All nutrition information is provided per 100 grams or per portion of the food. Supermarkets and food manufacturers now highlight the energy, fat, saturated fat, sugars and salt content on the front of the packaging, alongside the reference intake for each of these.
Nutrition labels on the back or side of packaging
They are usually displayed as a panel or grid. For example, the image below shows the nutrition label on a loaf of white bread.
This type of label includes information on energy (kJ/kcal), fat, saturates (saturated fat), carbohydrate, sugars, protein and salt. It may also provide additional information on certain nutrients, such as fibre. All nutrition information is provided per 100 grams and sometimes per portion.
How to know if a food is high in fat, saturated fat, sugar or salt?
There are guidelines to tell you if a food is high in fat, saturated fat, salt or sugar, or not. These are:
High: more than 17.5g of fat per 100g
Low: 3g of fat or less per 100g
High: more than 5g of saturated fat per 100g
Low: 1.5g of saturated fat or less per 100g
High: more than 22.5g of total sugars per 100g
Low: 5g of total sugars or less per 100g
High: more than 1.5g of salt per 100g (or 0.6g sodium)
Low: 0.3g of salt or less per 100g (or 0.1g sodium)
For example, if you are trying to cut down on saturated fat, limit your consumption of foods that have more than 5g of saturated fat per 100g. Some nutrition labels on the back or side of packaging also provide information about reference intakes.
Nutrition labels on the front of packaging
Most of the big supermarkets and many food manufacturers also display nutritional information on the front of pre-packed food. This is very useful when you want to compare different food products at a glance.
– Fat content
– Saturated fat content
– Sugars content
– Salt content
These labels provide information on the number of grams of fat, saturated fat, sugars and salt, and the amount of energy (in kJ and kcal) in a serving or portion of the food. But be aware that the manufacturer’s idea of a portion may be different from yours. Some front-of-pack nutrition labels also provide information about reference intakes.
Red, amber and green colour coding
Some front-of-pack nutrition labels use red, amber and green colour coding.
– Red means high
– Amber means medium
– Green means low
In short, the more green on the label, the healthier the choice. If you buy a food that has all or mostly green on the label, you know straight away that it’s a healthier choice. Amber means neither high nor low, so you can eat foods with all or mostly amber on the label most of the time.
But any red on the label means the food is high in fat, saturated fat, salt or sugars, and these are the foods we should cut down on. Try to eat these foods less often and in small amounts.
Most pre-packed food products also have a list of ingredients on the packaging or an attached label. The ingredients list can also help you work out how healthy the product is.
Ingredients are listed in order of weight, so the main ingredients in the packaged food always come first. That means that if the first few ingredients are high-fat ingredients, such as cream, butter or oil, then the food in question is a high-fat food.