Food Labelling Terms
The following page will give you a quick break down of the meanings of the most common labelling used on food packaging.
Use by Use by dates are used on food that goes off quickly. Don’t use any food or drink after the use by date, if you do it could put your health at risk. Make sure you follow storage instructions like ‘keep in refrigerator’ if not the food may spoil more quickly. Once food is opened make sure you follow instructions such as ‘eat within three days of opening’, but remember if the ‘use by’ is tomorrow then you must use the food by the end of tomorrow even if the label says ‘eat within three days of opening’. If the food can be frozen its life can be extended past the ‘use by’ date but make sure you follow instructions on the pack like ’cook from frozen’ or ‘defrost thoroughly before use and use within 24hours’.
Best before Best before dates are about quality not safety. When the date is passed, it does not mean the food will be harmful however it may start to lose its flavour and texture.
Best before eggs Eggs have a shelf life of 28 days (from date laid to best before date). By law eggs must reach the final consumer within 21 days from the date they have been laid. This date is known as the ‘sell by date’. After this date eggs will start to deteriorate and if any salmonella bacteria are present, they could multiply to high levels and make you ill. Eggs should be cooked thoroughly until both yolk and white are solid or if used in dishes where they will be fully cooked like in a cake, this will kill off any bacteria, such as salmonella.
*Every year in the UK 7.2million tonnes of food and drink is thrown away which could have been eaten, so think carefully before throwing food away past it’s ‘best before’ date.
Display until and sell by Display until and sell by dates are used for stock control purposes. These are instructions for shop staff, not shoppers.
GDA Guideline Daily Amounts. These help us make sense of the science information provided on food labels. They provide guidelines that help put nutritional information into context of an overall diet. *Food labels are changing and the term GDA will soon be replaced with RI (Reference Intake)
RI Reference Intake. Guidelines based on the approximate amount of nutrients and energy you need for a healthy, balance diet each day. They are not intended as targets as energy and nutrient requirements differ for all people, they should be used as an indication of how much energy the average person needs and how a particular nutrient fits into your diet.
Health Claims Often food packages make health claims like, ‘actively lowers cholesterol’ or ‘helps maintain a healthy heart’. Any claims made about the nutritional and health benefits must be based on science and have the European Commission’s approval. General claims like ‘healthy’ or ‘good for you’ are only allowed if baked up with an explanation as to why the food is healthy.
Light or lite For a food to be ‘light’ or ‘lite’ it must be at least 30% lower in at least one typical value such as calories or fat than a standard version of the same food. Make sure you compare products carefully with similar foods. The best way to compare them is to look at the information per 100g. A ‘light’ or ‘lite’ version may contain the same amount of fat or calories as the standard version of another brand.
Low fat For a food to be labelled ‘low fat’ it must not contain more than 3g of fat per 100g for solids or 1.5g of fat per 100ml for liquids.
No added sugar or unsweetened ‘No added sugar’ or ‘unsweetened’ refers to the sugars and sweeteners added to the food as an ingredient. It does not mean that the food contains no sugar or sweeteners.
No added sugar No added sugar usually means the food has not had sugar added to it as an ingredient. It may still taste sweet and can still contain sugar. Sugars occur naturally in food such as fruit and milk but we don’t need to cut down on these types of sugars. It is food that contain added sugars that we need to cut down on.
Unsweetened Unsweetened usually means no sugar or sweeteners have been added to the food to make it taste sweet. This does not mean that the food won’t contain any naturally occurring sugars found in fruit or milk.
Energy This is the amount of energy the food will give you when you eat it. It is measured in kilojoules (kj) and kilocalories (kcal), usually referred to as calories.
Fat There are two main types of fat found in our food, saturated and unsaturated. As part of a healthy diet we need to try and cut down on food containing high amounts of saturated fats. The nutrition label how much total fat is found in the food.
Saturates Eating food in high saturated fats can raise cholesterol levels. High cholesterol increases the risk of heart disease. As part of a healthy diet we should try to cut down on food that is high in saturated fats.
Carbohydrates There are two types of carbohydrates, simple and complex. Simple carbohydrates are usually on nutritional labels as “carbohydrates (of which sugars)” This includes added sugars and natural sugars found in fruit and milk. Complex carbohydrates are also called starchy foods, they include potatoes, bread, rice and pasta. We should get most of our energy from complex carbohydrates as opposed to those containing sugar. Try to choose high-fibre and whole grain foods whenever you can by choosing whole wheat pasta, brown rice or by leaving the skins on potatoes. If the nutrition label only shows a total figure for carbohydrates this will include both simple and complex carbohydrates.
Sugars Sugars occur naturally in foods like fruit and milk, however these are not the sugars we need to cut down on. Sugars are also added to a wide range of foods such as sweets, cakes, biscuits and chocolate it is these type of sugars we need to cut down on. Eating and drinking food and drink high in sugar increases your risk of obesity and tooth decay. Nutrition labels will tell you how much sugar a food contains. This includes added sugars (sometimes called ‘free sugars’) and the natural sugars found in fruit and milk. You can compare labels and choose foods that are lower in sugar.
A note about sugar free options Sugar can be hard to spot in children’s food as it is given many different names. All the following can be found on the ingredients list and are only needed in small amounts as they offer your child little, except empty calories:
Fruit juice Molasses
Hydrolysed starch Invert sugar
Corn syrup Honey
Look for ‘no added sugar’ on the packet If you can’t see it on the label then read the nutritional information and look for ‘Carbohydrates – of which Sugar’. Be aware that foods and drink stating ‘no added sugar’ typically use chemical sweeteners.
Protein Proteins help the body repair itself and grow. Protein rich foods include eggs, meat, fish, milk and dairy products, beans, lentils and nuts.
Salt Salt on food labels include all the sodium in food. Most sodium comes from salt (sodium chloride), some can be naturally occurring in food, it can also come from raising agents and additives. Too much salt can raise your blood pressure, which will increase your chances of developing health problems such as heart disease and stroke. Cutting down on salt lowers blood pressure, reducing the likelihood of developing heart disease and stroke.