Understanding Food Labels & Ingredients Listings

Nutrition labels on packaging

Nutrition labels are often displayed as a panel or grid on the back or side of packaging. For example, the image below shows the nutrition label on a ready meal.

This type of label usually includes information on energy (calories), protein, carbohydrate and fat. Itfoodlabel4 may also provide additional information on saturated fat, sugars, sodium, salt and fibre. All nutrition information is provided per 100 grams and sometimes per portion of the food.






How do I 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.

Total fat
High: more than 20g of fat per 100g
Low: 3g of fat or less per 100g

Saturated fat
High: more than 5g of saturated fat per 100g
Low: 1.5g of saturated fat or less per 100g

High: more than 15g 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 guideline daily amounts (GDAs).


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 foodlabelgdaat a glance.

These labels provide information on the number of grams of fat, saturated fat, sugars and salt, and the number of calories in a serving or portion of the food. Be aware, however, that the manufacturer’s idea of a portion may be different from yours.

They don’t always show carbohydrates of which sugar—which is important to you if you’re trying to lose weight.


This label also shows Guideline daily amounts (GDAs)

Because individual requirements for calories and nutrients are different for all people, GDAs are not intended as targets. Instead they are intended to give a useful indication of how a particular nutrient or amount of calories fits into your daily diet.

For example, the label above shows that this pack will provide you with 1.5 grams of salt, which represents 25% of your GDA for salt. In other words, this pack contains about a quarter of an adult’s GDA of salt.


This label also uses Traffic light colour-coding

Some front-of-pack nutrition labels use red, amber and green (traffic light) colour-coding.

Traffic light colour coding, as shown in the image above, tells you at a glance if the food has high, medium or low amounts of fat, saturated fat, sugars and salt.

  • red means high
  • amber means medium
  • green means low

In short, the more green lights, the healthier the choice.

 Ingredients list

Most pre-packed food products also have a list of ingredients on the packaging or on 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. Watch out for Sugar or other names for sugar (sucrose, malt extract, rice syrup, fructose, corn syrup, honey etc.) as sometimes the first handful of ingredients listed can be sugars by another name making a food item to step away from!


Easy, quick rule of thumb for food labels

There are two main things to look for when trying to make a quick decision about whether to put that food item in your basket. (lets face it, we haven’t got all day to be working out recommended daily percentages!)

 1: look at the “Carbohydrates – of which sugars”foodlabelcarbs

If the amount per serving (shown here as 23g) is more than half of the Carbohydrates per serving (shown here as 28.56) leave it well alone.


You want the “of which sugars” to be less than half of the amount of the figure given for carbohydrates.

2: Look at the “Fat—of which saturates or saturated fats”foodlabelfat


The same rule of thumb applies here. The saturated fats should be less than half of the total fats. If they are more than half, leave it alone!