4th August 2021
Most pre-packaged foods in the UK contain front-of-packet food labelling which displays the nutritional information for energy (calories), fat, saturated fat, sugars and salt per portion. This information will be written per 100g/100ml, per portion or both (1). It’s worth bearing in mind that the suggested serving size is often less than the total packet size.
The UK government recommends using a colour coded system on the front of pre-packaged foods to help consumers to quickly identify whether a product is “high – red”, “medium – amber” or “low – green” in certain nutrients (see Table 1). This makes it easy to compare products and select healthier choices (1).
The traffic light labelling system also displays a percentage which is known as the ‘percentage reference intake’(1). For example, if a food is shown to contain 45% of the total recommended nutrient intake (RNI) for salt, you should be mindful of the amount of salt eaten from other foods for the remainder of the day. You can use the percentage reference intakes to compare similar foods to see if they contribute more or less to your daily RNI of energy (calories), fat, saturated fat, sugar or salt.
Some food products may make nutrition claims such as ‘low in salt’ or ‘high in fibre’. These claims can only be made when the food meets a specific criteria according to food labelling law (3). This helps to make sure the nutritional information displayed is clear and not misleading. Although a nutrition claim can help you to make healthy choices, you should still read the full nutritional label to understand whether the product is a suitable choice. For instance, the food may be low in salt but high in sugar.
1. Food Standards Agency (FSA). Check the label. 2020. Available from: https://www.food.gov.uk/print/pdf/node/3581.
2. National Health Service (NHS). Food Labels; Eat Well. 2018. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/eat-well/how-to-read-food-labels/
3. British Dietetic Association (BDA). Food labelling: nutritional information. 2018. Available from: https://www.bda.uk.com/resource/food-labelling-nutrition-information.html
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