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How to read a food label

OK so when you are trying to eat healthily, and you're out buying food, how can you tell what’s healthy and what’s unhealthy – by reading the label? Most people find it really difficult to decide what a product actually contains just by reading the label. There is so much information on there, do you actually know what to look for?

What to look for when you go shopping

When you read a food label, you should look at:


Remember to spread it thin. A fatty diet is linked to heart disease, so try to cut down. A lot of saturated fat is bad for you. But unsaturated fats can be good for you – in small amounts.


Sugar can cause tooth decay and weight gain (as its just “empty calories”). You don’t have to give up sugar - just don’t eat too much too often.


Eating too much salt can cause high blood pressure and adults should eat no more than 6g salt a day – that’s one level teaspoon for the entire day. But beware, there is often a lot of salt in ready meals and processed foods. Salt is officially called Sodium Chloride so often labels also list a value for Sodium but it still your salt reading and the table below shows what “a lot” of Sodium is too.

Salt is contained in most foods, however foods which are particularly high in salt include: processed foods such a canned soup and ready meals, take-aways, crisps and baked beans. It is important to read the labels on food to look how much salt they contain. Salt may appear as sodium on labels, 6g of salt is equivalent to 2.5g of sodium.

How much is a lot or a little?

The Foods Standards Agency has defined what it thinks is “a lot” or “a little” in fat, sugar and salt.

Simple guide to food labelling

A lot is… A little is…
Per 100g Per 100g
10g of Sugars
20g of Fat
5g of saturates
1.25g of Salt
0.5g of Sodium
2g of added sugars
3g of Fat
1g of saturates
0.25g of Salt
0.1g of Sodium


Just because it says 'low in fat', it might not be

It's always a good idea to check claims such as 'low in fat' with care. A bag of crisps that claims to contain 25% less fat than normal crisps may still contain a lot of fat! Or something low in fat may be high in sugar!

Now you know what's a lot ,and whats a little, you can now look at a food label and make healthier choices.

Food labelling explained

Many big supermarkets now display the nutritional information on the front of many foods. This is useful to compare the nutritional content of different foods at a glance. The information that is displayed includes: calories, total fat (of which saturated), sugar content and salt content. 

Guideline Daily Amounts (GDAs) are sometimes displayed on the packaging of many foods. These are guidelines of the approximate amount of particular nutrients and calories required for a healthy diet. Everyone requires different amount of nutrients, therefore GDA’s are just an identification of the amount of nutrients that fits into your daily diet. The packaging sometimes displays the amount as a % of GDA per portion. However, it is important to remember that the manufacturer’s idea of a portion may be different to yours, so interpret the information carefully.

Recently traffic light colouring has been used on food packaging to identify if the food has high, medium or low amounts of fat (saturated fat), sugar and salt. This can be identified through the colour coded system, red indicating high, amber is medium and green, low. Red signifies these foods should be eaten occasionally and try to cut down on them whilst green are healthier options.

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