What do Food Labels Really Mean?

Food Labels

Deciphering the food labels?

We have all at some point stood in an aisle in the supermarket staring at a packet with a confused expression on our face. This is because food labels for some reason are confusing to decipher! Or at least, they can be if you don’t know what they mean. With so much nutritional information being offered to us nowadays, it is important that we know what is in a product before we buy it, after all, we all should care about the types of food we are putting in our bodies!

Use By and Best Before – “Use By” labels are usually found on dairy, fish and meat and some other perishable items. Food should not be eaten after this date for health reasons. “Best Before” labels means that the food can keep its nutritional value and quality up till this date if stored correctly.

Ingredients – The ingredients on food labels is listed in descending weight order. Ingredients which make up more than 5% of a product have to be listed.

Nutrition Information – This panel lets you know the amount of nutrients per 100g or 100ml. Nutrients listed will include:

  • Energy
  • Fat
  • Protein
  • Saturated Fat
  • Carbohydrates
  • Sugar
  • Sodium

30g sugar per 100g is a large amount, as is 20g fat per 100g.


Brands must adhere to claim guidelines so that you are being presented with reliable nutritional information.

Fat Free – Must contain less that 0.15% fat

Low Fat – Must contain less than 3% fat (or less than 1.5% in liquids)

No Added Sugar – Must contain only natural sugars

Reduced Salt – Must contain a salt reduction of 25%.

The words “organic” and “natural” are often thrown around, but what they really mean is that they are grown using less chemicals than other products. Non GM (Genetically Modified) products are the only ones that are guaranteed to be produced using no harmful chemicals. “Natural” foods on the other hand show that a product doesn’t contain any artificial ingredients such as additives, preservatives or unnatural colouring.

Saturated fats are found in many food products and it is the type of fat which contains fatty acids. Saturated fats can be found in fatty meats and dairy products. Unsaturated fat on the other hand contains less energy and therefore fewer calories, making it a healthier option than saturated fats.

When you see “cholesterol” mentioned on food labels, be aware that plant product contain virtually no cholesterol so seeing these labels on margarine or oil products is usually just a ploy to make you think you are eating something less fatty! Limiting cholesterol is key to a low fat diet, where you should be consuming no more than 300 mg a day.

Colour coding is often used in food labels

Some manufacturers have begun to colour code their foods using a “traffic light” colour coding system. A product such as the example above lets you know that the sugar content is fairly low (using a green-yellow colour), and that the saturated fat content is very high (using a red colour). Red foods should only be eaten in moderation and as part of a balanced diet.

We’d love to hear your view on the issue of food labels. Feel free to post your views on food labels here, on our Facebook page or tweet us on our Twitter page.

Posted by RecipeBridge Staff Writer March 27th 2012
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