Nutrition labelling on food are designed to be there to help you choose between products and let you know how much fat, salt, or sugar you might be consuming. They can help us make healthier food choices and eat a more balanced diet if we know what we’re looking for.
All prepacked food is required to display a label by law. The nutritional information is displayed among a host of other mandatory information including:
- Name of the food
- List of ingredients
- Allergen information
- Quantitative declaration of ingredients (QUID) – the percentage of particular ingredients contained in
- Net quantity
- Storage conditions and date labelling
- Name and address of manufacturer
- Country of origin
- Preparation instructions
- Nutritional declaration
Some foods require additional labelling such as sweeteners and sugars, aspartame and colourings, liquorice, caffeine, and polyols.
What does the nutrition information on the front of the pack mean?
The information on the front of the pack is designed to help you make a quick decision and shows the key nutrients to watch out for in terms of your health. This is often colour coded as well to make things even clearer and can be referred to as the traffic light system. A lot of products do display this label, but it isn’t compulsory.
When it is available it can contain the following information:
- The amount of energy in calories (kcal) or kilojoules (kJ) per serving and per 100g
- The amount of fat
- The amount of saturates (saturated fat)
- The amount of sugars
- The amount of salt
The information is given in both numbers which show you the actual value of that item contained in the product and also the percentage of your daily allowance which is known as the RI.
The RI is based on an average woman’s daily requirement and is set at 2000 calories (kcal). The average requirement for men is higher at 2500 and for children it may be less. Also, everyone is individual and will have unique nutrient requirements, so these are only to be used as a guide.
As an example, if a food you pick up says it contains 50% for saturated fat that means that when you consume this product you will have already eaten half the maximum amount recommended for that day so you should try and choose products lower in saturated fat for the rest of the day.
The traffic light system
The traffic light system is meant as a basic guide to help make choices simple and products easy to compare. There are products such as some breakfast cereals which contain the information but have not put a colour code on them and left them black and white, meaning you will have to pay more attention to the actual numbers and percentages in order to compare. In its simplistic view this is what the colours mean:
- Red – Means high. The product is high in a nutrient and so you should eat less of this, try and cut down or eat smaller amounts.
- Amber – Means medium. You can eat this most of the time but be aware of your intake.
- Green – Means low. The more green the label is the healthier the product is.
This is the information given by the FSA (Food Standards Agency) and should only be used as a guide as fat for example is very broad in it’s description and an avocado or nuts would be classed as high fat but these are ‘good fats’ known as monounsaturated fats where research has shown that eating foods containing these can actually improve cholesterol and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. The fats to be more wary of are trans fats in foods such fried food and margarine as these are linked to many diseases such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and general inflammation in the body.
The back of pack information
This is the compulsory information on a product and includes:
- Nutrients per 100g
- Nutrients per serving or portion
- Number of servings or portions (displayed below the table)
Using the per 100g number gives you chance to be able to compare with other products while the per portion can help keep a track of your daily intake. Beware of the servings and portions number though as the nutritional value may be based on a much smaller portion than you actually consume, have you ever tried weighing out the 30g portion of cereal that the nutrition information is based on? It’s almost certainly going to be a lot smaller than the portion you will naturally pour for yourself.
The information provided on food products is there to help make choices and should always only be used as a guide. Everyone is unique and has individual needs and some information on nutrients such as fat can be misleading depending on what they are as an avocado and fried chicken will both be considered high in fat but will have very different effects on the body.