Interpreting nutrition labels at the back of a food product

Most pre-packed foods have a nutrition label on the back or side of the packaging. These labels include information on energy in kilojoules (kJ) and kilocalories (kcal), usually referred to as calories.

They also include information on fat, saturates (saturated fat), carbohydrate, sugars, protein and salt. Nutrition information is typically provided per 100 grams although sometimes it could be per portion of the food. It is best to convert all nutrition information to their per 100gms values. This helps in interpreting the nutrition and comparing different food items.

Where are the labels found?

Nutrition labels are often displayed on the back or side of packaging. A typical nutrition label looks like this:

All labels give information about Energy (kcal), Carbohydrates, Fats and Proteins. They may also provide additional information on certain nutrients, such as fibre, sugar, vitamins and minerals.

How do I know if the food is good for me?

There are international guidelines to tell you whether the food is high in fat, saturated fat, sugar and salt. We recommend the use of UK guidelines as given below:

Total fat
High: more than 17.5g of fat per 100g
Low: 3g of fat or less per 100g

Saturated fat
High: more than 5g of saturated fat per 100g
Low: 1.5g of saturated fat or less per 100g

Sugars
High: more than 22.5g of total sugars per 100g
Low: 5g of total sugars or less per 100g

Salt
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)

Please note that all values above are per 100g. So check whether the nutrition given on the label is for 100g and not per portion. For example, in the Special K label given above, the nutrient values have to be multiplied by 3.33 to get the values per 100g

Recommended Daily Amounts (RDA)

Daily reference intakes for the average adult aged 19 to 64 are:

Energy: 8400kJ/2000kcal
Total fat: less than 70g
Saturates: less than 20g
Carbohydrate: at least 260g
Total sugars: 90g
Protein: 50g
Salt: less than 6g

The reference intake for total sugars includes sugars from milk and fruit, as well as added sugar.

Unless the label says otherwise, reference intakes are based on an average-sized woman doing an average amount of physical activity.

Ingredient list

Most pre-packed food products also have a list of ingredients on the packaging or an attached label. The ingredients list can also help you work out how healthy the product is.

Ingredients should ideally be listed in order of weight, so the main ingredients in the packaged food always come first. That means that if the first few ingredients are fat (oil, butter, ghee, cream) or sugar (or sugar equivalents like sucrose, fructose, glucose, maltose, honey, etc), the product will typically not be helpful in your weight loss journey. Unfortunately, in India, only the big brands tend to follow this rule of listing ingredients by their weight.

Fun facts

Now that you know how to read a nutrition label, why not practice it by comparing the Special K label with a Parle G biscuit for the amount of sugar? Or compare it with Lays Classic Chips label for the salt content?

P.S.: Special K has almost the same amount of sugar as Parle G biscuits and significantly more salt than Lays Classic Salted Chips. Surprised? Join slim.in to learn many more such fascinating facts.

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