Food labelling and what to look out for


All food in the UK will soon have to display its nutritional content. So what should you look out for when it comes to food labelling?

I was teaching a client yesterday who was disappointed with an eating choice she’d made. She’s swapped out a bar of chocolate for some cashew nuts – but it was only after she’d finished the 100g bag that she realised she’d just taken on 600 calories – probably 400 more than if she’d stuck to chocolate! “If only I’d read the label,” she bemoaned.

Does that mean that chocolate’s better for you than cashews? Of course not, it just means that cashew nuts are more calorie-dense than chocolate is. (The pack in question was salted – but that’s another story!)

Whether you’re pro or for the EU is another thing – but certainly one of the best pieces of legislation passed recently in Brussels was the EU Food Information for Consumers Regulation which means that from 2016, food labelling in this country and across the continent becomes mandatory. Basically, everything you buy will tell you what it’s made of… and that’s a good thing.

We’re quite good in the UK at adapting early to this kind of thing, and so much of what you buy in supermarkets is already labelled. Much of it contains a detailed label on the back and a traffic light symbol on the front to enable consumers to make quick decisions: green is good, yellow is borderline, red is bad. It doesn’t take a genius to know that avoiding labels that glow redder than a Liverpool shirt is a good idea.


The number of calories we see is obviously one of things many of us are concerned with.

In simple terms, if you cut your average calorie consumption by 500 calories a day and everything else remains equal, you will loose 0.5kg of weight.

This simple calculation is one of the reasons that calorie counting remains a useful tool when it comes to weight loss – but of course other considerations come into play too.

If your recommended calorific intake is 2000 a day and you eat 1,500 worth of chocolate and nothing else… then yes, you might lose weight but other things will come into play: a lack of vitamins and nutrients, high levels of saturated fat are just two. So obviously, we need to look deeper.

Proteins, carbohydrates and fat 

The three main food groups -Protein, carbs and fat – are the next thing to check. (By comparison and for information, a gram of protein or carbohydrate has 4 calories, a gram of fat 9 and a gram of alcohol 7).

I tend to advise clients to aim for an overall diet balance of 30-40 per cent protein, 20 per cent good fats (olive oil, nuts, avocado etc) and 40-50 per cent carbs, depending on their fitness goals – and it’s worth bearing these in mind when it comes to your buying choices and meal combinations.

Knowing if something is high in fat, saturated fat, sugar and salt. 

Most food labels offer a breakdown in content based on values per 100g and values per portion. Bear in mind what you think a portion is and what the  manufacturer thinks a portion is are two different things – as an experiment, pour yourself a bowl of cereal. Then weigh out the manufacturer’s portion size and compare the two – you might be shocked.

As such, using the 100g values give a better comparison. Here are some recommended NHS guidelines:

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

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

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)

If you have any questions on diet and exercise, don’t hesitate to contact me via the contact page.