Understanding Food Labels, Low Fat, Sugar and Salt

Understanding the useful information contained on food labels and ingredients lists is a great help when adopting a healthier lifestyle or if you have to beware of certain foods contained within a product.

Order of Ingredients

Ingredients are listed in descending order of content. This means the main ingredient appears at the top of the list. This can quickly help you indentify high fat or high sugar foods that should be avoided. If fat or sugar appear in the top three ingredients then the food is almost always high in fat or sugar and you should be careful about how much you eat. It can be confusing though, as fat and sugar can be listed by a variety of names.

Here are the main names that food manufacturers use for fat:
• Fat
• Butter
• Buttermilk
• Milk fat
• Lard
• Dripping
• Peanut butter
• Vegetable oil
• Vegetable fat
• xxx-glycerides (anything ending in glycerides)

Here are the main names that food manufacturers use for sugar:
• Sugar
• Glucose
• Sucrose
• Dextrose
• Fructose (Fruit sugar)
• Brown sugar
• Cane sugar
• Honey
• Molasses
• Treacle
• Syrup
Remember to always read the top three ingredients.

A nutrition label shows information per average serving size and per 100g

Learn simple rules to help you identify healthy and unhealthy foods  

You can learn virtually all you need to know about a food from the nutrition label. Use these simple examples to choose foods to help you eat more healthily:
• Choose more foods containing less than 5g of fat per 100g
• Choose fewer foods containing more than 10g of fat per 100g
• Choose more foods containing less than 5g of sugar per 100g
• Choose more foods containing more than 6g of fibre per 100g

From now on, a quick glance at a food label can help you choose between healthy and unhealthy foods. After a check of the ingredients, you should recognise the warning signals if fat or sugar appear in the top three ingredients. Remember, food manufacturers use many different names for fat and sugars.

Traffic light system:

Some food labels use red, amber and green colour coding which makes it easier to choose food that is lower in total fat, saturated fat, and sugar and salt. Choose more ’greens’, ’ambers’ and fewer 'reds'.  On our premium service we use the traffic light system to help you understand the balance between your food choices.

Total fat, saturated fat, and sugar and salt - high or low?

Total fat -
High: more than 17.5g 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

Sugars -
High: more than 22.5g of total sugars per 100g
Low: 5g of total sugars or less per 100g

Salt and sodium -
Salt is also called sodium chloride. Sometimes, food labels only give the figure for sodium. But there's a simple way to work out how much salt you're eating from the sodium figure: salt = sodium x 2.5.(one part of salt is equal to 2.5 parts of sodium).  Adults should eat no more than 2g of sodium per day, as this is equal to 5g of salt.
High: more than 1.5g salt per 100g (or 0.6g sodium)
Low: 0.25g salt or less per 100g (or 0.1g sodium)