Food labelling - 5 key points to look for

Food labelling - 5 key points to look for

Although there is legislation on what should be included on food labels there are also voluntary guidelines, so you may have noticed that there isn’t a consistent method of displaying this information.  It can be difficult to tell at a glance the portion size and nutritional breakdown of packaged food. 

Despite legislation, some packaging can be misleading so what are the 5 key points to look for?

1)    Ingredients

The ingredients are listed in descending order so the first item on the list is in the largest quantity.  If cream and butter top the list of ingredients, the chances are you are looking at a high fat product.


2)    Dates

There are two dates listed on the packaging; use by and best before.  “Use-by” dates are on perishable goods and are stated for food safety reasons and food should not be consumed after this date. “Best-before” dates appear on fresh, frozen, canned and packet foods and refers to the quality of food.  Food should still be safe to eat after this date but may not be the same quality, taste, texture or appearance.


3)    Front of pack labelling

This is voluntary and appears in a variety of forms including lists, traffic lights and colour coding. Campaigners have been lobbying for a consistent method of displaying information and research carried out by the Food Standards Agency found that the traffic light labelling was preferred by shoppers as they could tell “at a glance” the key nutritional values. This information is usually, but not always, given per serving.  If there are symbols on the front of the packaging and they are all red, chances are the product is high in calories, fat and salt.  Just as with real traffic lights, amber signs are a “warning” so are for moderate consumption and green symbols are just like green lights and represent healthy choices so you can go, go, go!


4)    Back of pack labelling

Labelling on the back or the side of packaging lists the nutritional information in a consistent table format. This information includes: energy, fat, saturated fat, sugar, carbohydrate, sugar, protein and salt. This information must be provided if any nutritional claims are made about a product  The information is always in the same order and is displayed per 100g and sometimes per portion too.


5)    Descriptions: Lite, Light and Low

Legislation exists for foods making health claims such as lowering cholesterol.  In addition, for a food to be labelled as lite or light it needs to be 30% lower in calories or fat than a standard product.  To be “low fat” it must have less than 3g of fat per 100g or 1.5g of fat per 100ml for liquid product. Government guidelines on health claims and food labelling can be found here.


Cindy Croucher – Wright is the head of The Centre for Short Courses and CPD at St Mary’s University, Twickenham which offer sports massage courses as well as multiple nutrition courses.

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