Nutrition labels can help you choose between products and keep a check on the amount of foods you’re eating that are high in fat, salt and added sugars.
Read on or use the links below to go straight to the sections that interest you.
- Nutrition labels on the back or side of packaging
- Nutrition labels on the front of packaging
- Reference intake (RI)
- Red, amber and green colour-coding
- Ingredients list
- Food shopping tips
Most pre-packed foods have a nutrition label on the back or side of the packaging.
These labels include information on energy in kilojoules (kJ) and kilocalories (kcal), usually referred to as calories. They also include information on fat, saturates (saturated fat), carbohydrate, sugars, protein and salt. All nutrition information is provided per 100 grams and sometimes per portion of the food.
Supermarkets and food manufacturers now highlight the energy, fat, saturated fat, sugars and salt content on the front of the packaging, alongside the reference intake for each of these. You can find out more in the section on reference intake (RI) below.
You can use nutrition labels to help you choose a more balanced diet. For a balanced diet:
- cut down on fat (especially saturated fat), salt and added sugars
- base your meals on starchy foods such as potatoes, bread, pasta and rice, choosing wholegrain where possible
- eat lots of fruit and vegetables – aim for at least five portions of a variety every day
- include some protein-rich foods such as meat, fish, pulses and milk and dairy foods
You can learn more in A balanced diet.
Nutrition labels on the back or side of packaging
Nutrition labels are often displayed as a panel or grid on the back or side of packaging. For example, the image below shows the back of pack nutrition label on a loaf of white bread.
This type of label includes information on energy (kJ/kcal), fat, saturates (saturated fat), carbohydrate, sugars, protein and salt. It may also provide additional information on certain nutrients such as fibre. All nutrition information is provided per 100 grams and sometimes per portion of the food.
How do I know if a food is high in fat, saturated fat, sugar or salt?
There are guidelines to tell you if a food is high in fat, saturated fat, salt or sugar, or not. These are:
High: more than 17.5g of fat per 100g
Low: 3g of fat or less per 100g
High: more than 5g of saturated fat per 100g
Low: 1.5g of saturated fat or less per 100g
High: more than 22.5g of total sugars per 100g
Low: 5g of total sugars or less per 100g
High: more than 1.5g of salt per 100g (or 0.6g sodium)
Low: 0.3g of salt or less per 100g (or 0.1g sodium)
For example, if you are trying to cut down on saturated fat, limit your consumption of foods that have more than 5g of saturated fat per 100g.
Some nutrition labels on the back or side of packaging also provide information about reference intake (RI). Find out more about RI below.
Nutrition labels on the front of packaging
Most of the big supermarkets and many food manufacturers also display nutritional information on the front of pre-packed food. This is very useful when you want to compare different food products at a glance.
Front-of-pack labels, such as the label in the above image, usually give a quick guide to:
- fat content
- saturated fat content
- sugar content
- salt content
These labels provide information on the number of grams of fat, saturated fat, sugars and salt, and the amount of energy (in kJ and kcal) in a serving or portion of the food. Be aware, however, that the manufacturer’s idea of a portion may be different from yours.
Some front-of-pack nutrition labels also provide information about RI. Find out more below.
Reference intake (RI)
Nutrition labels can also provide information on how a particular food or drink product fits into your daily diet.
Reference intakes are guidelines about the approximate amount of particular nutrients and energy required for a healthy diet.
Find out more about adult reference intakes.
Red, amber and green colour-coding
Some front-of-pack nutrition labels use red, amber and green colour-coding.
Colour-coded nutritional information, as shown in the image above, tells you at a glance if the food has high, medium or low amounts of fat, saturated fat, sugars and salt.
- red means high
- amber means medium
- green means low
In short, the more green(s) on the label, the healthier the choice.
If you buy a food that has all or mostly green(s) on the label, you know straight away that it’s a healthier choice. Amber means neither high nor low, so you can eat foods with all or mostly amber(s) on the label most of the time. But any red(s) on the label means the food is high in fat, saturated fat, salt or sugars and these are the foods we should cut down on. Try to eat these foods less often and in small amounts.