Food Labels

Why look at food labels?

The words ‘reduced fat’ and ‘less fat’, or ‘less salt’ are used to attract us into thinking it is a healthy choice. What they are actually saying is that they are reduced or less than another or an original version of the same product. It may be a ‘healthier’ choice, but not necessarily a ‘healthy’ choice. They can still contain high levels of that ingredient or may contain high levels of other nutrients that we need to be careful of.

Labels that play on ingredients

Some labels play on ingredients. Take for example a biscuit and raisin bar that states it is ‘vitamin enriched’ Reading a label like this can make a consumer think ‘that sounds healthy’, but in fact it can still contain high calories, high fat/sugar/salt ingredients. Adding vitamins to a food does not turn an unhealthy food into a healthy one.

You may choose to buy chicken soup that claim ‘all natural ingredients’. That may well be the case, but they may include double cream, white wine and chicken fat, which are all high in kilocalories and fat.

Food labels and the law

By law a food label has to provide certain information including the name of the manufacturer. This enables the consumer to contact the manufacturer directly should they be concerned or dissatisfied with any aspect of the product.


A food label has to tell us if food has undergone any kind of process such as smoking or drying such as smoked mackerel or dried apricots.


The pictures of food labels must also not mislead. For example, yogurt that has only raspberry flavouring must not have a photo of a raspberry on the packaging. It can, however, have a drawing of a raspberry – a loophole that food manufacturers exploit to their advantage.

Product names

The law also states that the name of the product must not be misleading. Whenever the name of the food contains the word ‘flavour’, the food does not have to contain any of that particular ingredient. So for example ‘Smoky Bacon flavour crisps’ do not have to contain any actual bacon, only bacon flavouring. However, a food labelled ‘Cheese and Onion Pasty’ must contain cheese and onion.


The ‘use by’ date mark is for highly perishable goods, which would become a health risk if eaten after the recommended date. The term ‘best before’ means exactly that. It would not be dangerous to eat that food after this date, but it would indicate that it would not be at its best.

Low fat

By law a product can only say it is ‘low fat’ if it contains less than 3g of fat per 100g of the product. Other terms such as ‘lower fat’, or ‘90% fat free’ could still be high in fat.

One third of our calorie intake per day should come from fat (30-35%).

Women – The recommended calorie intake for an average healthy woman is 2,000 Kcal per day, with a recommended intake of 70g of fat.

Men – The recommended intake for an average healthy man is 2,500 Kcal per day, with a recommended intake of 90g of fat.

Serving/portion sizes

When looking at food labels consider what is meant by ‘a serving’.

For example – Recommended serving size = half a carton of chicken soup. However, the realistic serving size is a whole carton carton of chicken soup.

The food label refers to a serving as half a carton of chicken soup, but on average many of us would be forgiven for assuming the ‘serving’ was the whole carton and may indeed consume the whole carton. This would provide double the amount of fat and this would need to be taken into consideration. You would therefore need to double everything on the food label.


Most foods contain sugar, but sometimes these sugars are natural, such as in fruit and have lots of important nutrients. It’s food that contain added sugar that need to be cut down or avoided. These include the sugars:

  • contained within ready-made foods, such as ready meals, cakes and sugary drinks
  • you use while making or preparing your own food
  • that are found in honey, syrup and unsweetened fruit juice.

Consider swapping sugar sweetened fizzy drinks for water, ‘diet’, sugar free or no added sugar drinks.

When it comes to cakes, puddings, biscuits, sweets, chocolates, honey, syrup, jams and spreads, consider eating these foods just occasionally as a treat. Get out of the habit of having these daily, because these sugars are likely to be added free sugars.

Sugary breakfast cereals – Eat these foods just occasionally, or swap to a no added sugar version. Parents can take responsibility here and not buy the sugary cereals. Many have sugars from added dried fruit, but most have high amounts of sugars, which are likely added free sugars.

Fruit juice and smoothies – All of the sugars are released from the fruit during juicing, so keep these to a minimum.

Fruit yogurt or fromage frais – Enjoy some of the time, or swap to a no added sugar version. The sugars are a mix of added free sugars (about 2/3) and sugars from the fruit and milk (about 1/3).

How much is too much sugar?

Free sugars shouldn’t make up more than 5% of the energy (calories) you get from food. For adults, that adds up to about 30g a day.

It therefore makes sense that children should eat less sugar than adults. However, in January 2019 Public Health England have produced statistics that children in the UK exceed the maximum sugar intake for an 18 year old by the time they are 10.

This equates to around 2,800 excess cubes of sugar per year.

The recommended daily allowance is as follows:

  • 4-6 year olds – 5 cubes per day – or 19g
  • 7-10 year olds – 6 cubes per day – or 24g
  • 11 years and over – 7 cubes per day – or 30g

However, the National Diet and Nutrition Survey has revealed that UK children are consuming around 13 cubes per day, or 52g.

If we start by making some of the simple changes I have suggested above we can help with the current obesity crisis and dental problems amongst children.

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