The nutrition labels on food packages can help you choose between products and keep a check on the amount of foods you are eating that are high in fat, salt and added sugars. You can use these labels to help you choose a more balanced diet. For a balanced diet you should be looking at:
- Eating at least 5 portions of a variety of fruit and vegetables everyday
- Basing meals on potatoes, bread, rice, pasta or other starchy carbohydrates – choose wholegrain or high fibre where possible
- Having some dairy or dairy alternatives, such as soya drinks and yoghurts – choose low-fat low-sugar options where possible
- Eating some beans, fish, eggs, meat and other protein – aim for 2 portions of fish a week, one of which should be oily, such as mackerel or salmon
- Choosing unsaturated oils and spreads, eat them in small amounts
- Drinking plenty of fluids – the government recommends 6-8 cups or glasses a day
How do I know if food is high in fat, saturated fat, sugar or salt?
High: more than 17.5g of fat per 100g
Low: 3g of fat 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 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)
So, if you are trying to cut down on saturated fat, try and eat less of the foods that have more than 5g of saturated fat per 100g.
Nutrition Labels on the front of Packaging
Many food packages now display nutritional information on the front. This is very useful when you want to compare different food products at a glance.
Labels at the front of packaging usually give a guide per portion/serving to
- Energy (Calories)
- Fat Content
- Saturated Fat Content
- Sugars Content
- Salt Content
BEWARE manufacturer’s idea of portion sizes may be different to yours.
Red, Amber and Green Colour Coding
Colour-coded nutritional information usually found on the front of food packages 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
The more green on the label the healthier that choice will be. If you buy a food with mostly green you will know that is a healthier choice.
Amber means it isn’t high or low, so you can eat foods with all or mostly amber on the label most of the time.
Red on the label means the food has a high content of fat, saturated fat, salt or sugars. These foods are the foods we should be cutting down on. Try and eat these type of foods less often and in small amounts.
Most pre-packed food also have a list of ingredients on the package. This list can also help you to work out how healthy a product is. Ingredients are listed in weight order, so the main ingredients always come first.
That means if the first few ingredients are high-fat ingredients such as cream, butter or oil then the food is a high-fat food.
Food Shopping Tips
If you are standing in the supermarket looking at 2 similar products trying to decide which one to choose and you want to make the healthier choice but you are in a hurry:
If you are buying ready-made meals, check to see if there is a nutrition label on the front of the packs and then see how they compare. If the labels use colour coding, you will see a mixture of red, amber and green, so go for the label with more greens and ambers and fewer reds, if you want to make the healthier choice. Remember that even healthier ready meals may be higher in fat and energy than a homemade version. If you make the meal yourself you could even save money too.
For help with eating healthy on a budget we recommend you visit http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/eat4cheap/Pages/cheap-food-shopping.aspx