Making Sense of Nutrition Claims and Food Labels

Food labels can be confusing, which is why I’ve come up with my top tips on how to make sense of them!

Food Label Traffic Light Wheel

The Nutrition Table (Fat, Sugar, Salt per 100g) – When we’re given a table full of numbers it doesn’t really mean much, but the following will help you to decide if you should eat the food more or less often – the higher the fat, sugar and salt, the less often we should be eating it, simple!

  • Fat: High is more than 20g of fat per 100g / Low is 3g of fat or less per 100g
  • Sugars: High is more than 15g of total sugars per 100g / Low is 5g of total sugars or less per 100g
  • Salt: High is more than 1.5g of salt per 100g (or 0.6g sodium) / Low is 0.3g of salt or less per 100g (or 0.1g sodium)

Guideline Daily Amounts (GDAs): These are guidelines on the amount of calories and other nutrients that are required daily for a healthy diet. Because individual requirements for calories and nutrients are different for all people, GDAs are not to be seen as target, but rather a guide and they are usually displayed as percentages (%). GDAs are based on the average women needing 2,000 calories a day to maintain weight (this may be more or less for individuals depending on activity levels, muscle mass, weight, age and of course gender).

Traffic Light Colours: These tell you at a glance if the food is high (red), medium (amber) or low (green) in fat, saturated fat, sugar and salt. You should aim to eat more of the foods with a mainly green label and less of the foods with a mainly red label. Traffic light labels will be featuring more and more on processed/pre-packed foods however won’t be appearing on foods such as fruit and vegetables – which of course we should be eating more of to be healthy!

The Ingredients List: The ingredients are always listed in order of weight, so the main ingredients of packaged foods will always come first. This means that if the first few ingredients are cream, butter, oil or sugar etc. then the food could be quite high in calories, which you could check by looking at the nutritional information.

Health Claims: Health claims such as, “helps maintain a healthy heart”, or “helps digestion” must be based on scientific evidence. General claims about benefits to overall good health, such as “healthy” or “good for you”, are only allowed if accompanied by an explanation of why the food is “healthy”. Labels are not allowed to claim that food can treat, prevent or cure disease or a medical condition as these sorts of claims are only licensed for medicines. 

Light or Lite: To say that a food is “light” or “lite”, it must be at least 30% lower in either calories, fat or sugar compared with the standard product from the same brand. The label must explain exactly what has been reduced and by how much e.g. “light: 30% less fat”.

No Added Sugar: This means that the food has not had sugar added to it as an ingredient. A food that has “no added sugar” might still taste sweet and can still contain sugars naturally such as fruit sugar (fructose) and milk sugar (lactose). 


I really hope that this article makes looking at labels less daunting – happy shopping!


By Uk Specialist Dietitian Nichola Whitehead from

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About Nichola Whitehead

Nichola Whitehead is a UK Specialist Registered Dietitian and she has a passion for promoting easy to understand nutrition and diet tips through her blog
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