Food - The choice is yours
How to use them
There's lots of information on food labels that can be confusing - you need to pick out what is important to you, so that you can make good choices.
Always remember labels are there to help sell the product as well as provide information. You may have to look carefully to get the whole story.
What's the name of food?
Obvious? Not always. The 'legal' name of food is sometimes not even on the front of the pack but once you find it you have a much better idea of what the product is - don't just find the marketing name, find the true description.
Chicken Nuggets = Marketing Name
Chopped and shaped chicken with textured soya protein, wheat starch and added water in a breadcrumb coating = true description.
What is the food made of?
Again not always what you might think but if you find the ingredients list you will find the answer.
The first thing on the ingredients list is the largest/heaviest ingredient followed by the next largest/heaviest and so on down to the smallest/lightest.
Fruit Juice Drink - Ingredients: water, glucose syrup, blackcurrant juice from concentrate (6%) Sucrose, citric acid, vitamin C.
So there is mainly water in this fruit juice drink and only 6% fruit juice.
However a product labelled ' fruit juice ' must be 100% fruit juice. Adding the word ' drink' makes a big difference.
Once you find the ingredients list, the most important ingredient should be given as a percentage so you can see how much of it is in the food and you can compare similar products.
Almost all packaged foods are marked with a date, either a use by date or a best before date.
The most important one to look for is the use by date. This is on foods that go off quickly such as milk, chilled ready meals, meat pies etc.
You should not use food or drink after the end of the use by date as it could cause food poisoning. Shops should never sell products after their use by dates.
The best before date is on products such as biscuits, cans of fizzy drink, breakfast cereals etc. After the best before date the product should not be dangerous to eat , but it is not guaranteed to be at its best, for instance ginger biscuits might have gone soft or lost their flavour.
Eggs are the odd ones out in the date world - they have a best before date not a use by but you should not eat eggs after their best before date.
How to make them
There has been a lot of concern recently about healthy eating and obesity. Many labels give nutritional information that can help you make a healthy choice.
You should be interested in the level of calories, sugar, fat, fibre or salt in a product.
Most labels tell you how much of these are in 100g of the products. Some tell you how much is in a serving as well. Some labels only tell you about carbohydrate and not sugar and some don't include salt. It would be easier if all labels were the same but at the moment they are not!
Salt is shown as sodium on the label. To work out how much salt this is multiply the amount of sodium by 2.5. Some labels do this for you.
In the following example, the pizza actually contains 1.75g of salt per 100g. That is a lot.
Hot and Spicy Meat Pizza
|Typical Values||Per 100g|
Of which sugars
Of which saturates
You can use the nutrition information to compare one product with another.
Don't forget the size of the product also makes a difference - sometimes the table gives you information per servings as well.
It's no good buying the pizza with the lower calories if it's much bigger than the other one and you eat it all!! You could end up having more calories.
If you are on a strict diet you could take your calculator shopping, if not what can you look for quickly and easily?
How do you know what is a little and what is a lot when it comes to fat, sugar and salt?
The Food Standards Agency guide is
|This is a lot per 100g||This is a little per 100g|
|Sugar||10g or more||2g or less|
20g or more
5g saturates or more
3g or less
1g of saturates or less
0.5g or more
1.25g or more
0.1g or less
0.25g or less
Some labels tell you in the nutritional panel whether they contain a high, medium or low level of nutrients so that you don't have to remember the figures.
How much fat, calories and salt should we be eating? Again there are guidelines for average adults of normal weight.
Carry our handy credit-card size guide to help you with your shopping - available from Hampshire County Council Information Centres and Libraries or ring Hampshire Trading Standards on 01962 833620
The nutrition table can also make sense of the claims made on lots of products.
Low fat, reduced fat, lite, no added sugar, high fibre etc - what do these mean and which is best for a healthy diet?
Although nutrition claims should not be misleading they are not always as straightforward as they appear. Remember look at the amount per 100g and see if it is 'a little' or 'a lot'.
Low fat - this means no more than 3g of fat per 100g for solids and no more than 1.5g of fat per 100ml for liquids. It does not necessarily mean low calorie. If you take the fat out of biscuits you have to replace it with something else very often sugar, so you don't necessarily end up with a low calorie biscuit.
No added sugar means just that - it does not mean the product is necessarily low in sugar. Many foods such as fruit have sugar in them naturally. A 'No added sugar' fruit spread might have just as much sugar in it as a normal jam only the sugar will have come from the fruit and from apple juice instead of from a bag of sugar. Look for how much sugar it contains per 100g - remember more than 10g per 100g is a lot. If sugars are naturally present in the food, the label must state "contains naturally occurring sugars."
Reduced Fat - this can only be stated where the product has at least 30% less fat than the "normal" version of the same product. Again it does not mean it is necessarily low in fat - just that it is less than the same brand regular variety. For instance a reduced fat chocolate mousse may still have more than 20g per 100g fat (a lot) but will have 30% less than the regular chocolate mousse.
Labels are there to sell the product and provide information
The manufacturers are going to want to make sure you see the best things about the product.
the legal name
the ingredients list
the date mark
the nutritional information
and you can then make an informed choice!