How to Read Food Labels
Published: 25 Aug 2017
Just how well do you understand the labels on the packaging of your food? This guide will help you to understand them better.
With so much information in one place, it’s important that you get to know what each part of the label means. This will help you to make healthy food choices for your heart and body.
How to spot healthy food
Anyone with a food packaging job should be able to tell all about this process, but for others it’s not so simple to understand. There is a way to spot how healthy food is just by looking at the label, but of course you have to know what to look for.
Not all labels use colour-coding, but many of them do, and this will help you to understand what you are looking at. Red means that the food has high levels of fat, saturated fat, sugars, and salt. Amber means that the levels are of a medium range, while the green colour means that the levels are low.
Therefore, the more greens there are on the label, the healthier the food is. The more reds you see, the less healthy it is.
If the label isn’t colour-coded, you should still be able to see a percentage, which indicates how much of your recommended daily intake is in the food product. If it is high, you might want to avoid it.
Key label points
There are several key points on the label that you will want to look out for. These tell you what your food contains, and are the most important metrics to track.
The first of these is energy. Energy is measured in kJ and kcal, the second one being calories, which you are likely most familiar with. On average, women need 2,000 calories a day, while men will need 2,500 calories. Remember that this number can fluctuate based on your activity level, your body weight and type, and other factors such as pregnancy.
Saturates, or saturated fat, are important to look out for. While there are good fats and bad fats, in general you want to make sure that you stick to your recommended daily intake rather than exceeding it.
Salt is especially important because a lot of adults eat more salt than they are recommended each day. Pay attention to the sodium or salt levels. Sodium should be multiplied by 2.5 in order to get the amount of salt in the product. Pay special attention and try not to add salt to foods which are already high in this area.
Reference intake, or RI, is another term for recommended daily amount, or RDA. These guidelines tell you how much of each nutrient you should be getting each day to ensure a balanced diet. For an adult, this RI is based on 2,000 calories, 70g of fat, 20g of saturates, 90g of sugars, and 6g of salt.
The serving or portion size is also really important. This tells you how much of the product the food production and manufacturing company thinks you should eat in one meal. Many food items will contain two or more servings, so keep an eye out for that.
It can all get a bit overwhelming, but once you know the tricks that manufacturers use, you will manage a lot better. For example, reduced fat is not to be confused with low fat. If a product was high in fat in the first place, then simply reducing the fat may not make it as healthy as you think. Look for the details on the label rather than falling for how the food is marketed!