Understanding Food Labels


Ever find yourself staring down the food aisle wondering where on earth you’re going to find that perfect lunchtime snack which will satisfy your craving, without breaking your healthy eating plan?

Trying to understand food labels can often send you dizzy, especially with all the buzzwords flying around these days – gluten free, vegan, additives, grass fed, organic, the list is endless. But, once you get to grips with the most common symbols it will make life much easier when grabbing your supermarket snack.

Unfortunately, there are loads of us affected by food allergies every single day, but most have this pinned down to particular foods which they know to avoid in the future. Sometimes however, it’s not an allergy, but a choice that we make to cut particular ingredients out of our diet to try and lead a healthier lifestyle. So to help us stick to this, we need those clear labels so that we don’t make the dreaded mistake of buying something we can’t eat.

Some of the most popular dietary requirements include vegan, which has the trademark authorised by the official Vegan Society. For those looking for a meat-free product, then keep your eyes peeled for the vegetarian symbol and of course, the trusty crossed grain symbol, so that gluten-free shoppers know to avoid products containing wheat, rye and barley.

With numbers and text sprawled across the packaging, it’s no wonder that people find food labels daunting, as it can be hard to know where to look and what exactly we should even be looking for. However, to give a helping hand, front of pack nutrition labels have been simplified using red, amber and green colour coding, and thus introducing the traffic light system! This makes life so much easier.

To break it down simply, colour-coded nutritional values gives you the information quickly, so that when you’re in a rush you don’t need to fret about searching on the back of the pack for how much fat, saturated fat, sugar and salt is in the product.

With red being the highest, through to amber and down to green, you can clearly see the values within the food you’re buying – basically, the more green there is, the healthier the product. But be careful to avoid food with mostly red symbols, or if you absolutely can’t resist, try eating these foods in small amounts and less often! It’s all about healthy moderation.

The longer, more in depth nutritional labels are usually listed on the back or the side of the packaging. These include all the values you need to know from fat to sugar, to calories, fibre and protein. Often, the information is provided per 100g, as well as per portion which is always useful, to help you keep on track of your intake each time.ii

Last but certainly not least, the ingredients list is probably one of the most essential things to look out for as a food savvy shopper, surely you want to know what you’re actually eating! This is also really important for those that have certain food allergies, so that they can see if the product is safe for them to eat.

Not only can the ingredients list be useful for avoiding any allergies, but it can also help you to work out how healthy the product is. The food label usually includes ingredients which are listed in order of weight, therefore it’s worth knowing that if the first couple of ingredients are high in fat such as cream, butter or oil then the food is more than likely the less healthy option to go for!iii But don’t let this put you off altogether. As we keep saying, it’s all about food in moderation.

So next time you dash off for a quick food shop, don’t feel overwhelmed by the food labels. Once you get the hang of it, you’ll be wondering why you were ever confused in the first place! Need more info? Feel free to contact us with any of your food label queries.

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