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Familiarising yourself with food labels Part 1

Posted by Aisling Murray on

Labels on food can be confusing and choosing what foods is best suited for our needs can be difficult. Under EU legislation, ingredients and nutritional information are compulsory on certain foods labels. These labels are designed to give information needed to make best choices when selecting foods. However, most of us do not know how to read food labels properly and what these labels are really telling us. Traditionally food labels were really only meant for those with allergens or those needing to limit their fat, sugar or salt intake for health reasons; with obesity on the rise it is vital we educate ourselves what we really are eating thus preventing health problems before they occur.


Front pack nutrition labels and traffic light labels


We have all seen these little labels on the front of food packaging, but what do they mean? They provide the GDA (guideline daily amounts) percentage of the product and provide a quick summary of the calories, fat, saturated fat, sugar and salt contained. They are great when comparing one food against another and for determining the content of nutrients and calories in your foods. The traffic light food label (on the right) is excellent as it colour coordinates the nutrients; green meaning low, amber suggesting medium and red meaning high. This makes it easier to avoid high fat, sugar or salt foods. Be aware this front label usually only advises a single portion or ½ serving rather than the whole packet, so don’t be fooled by lower numbers!!


Light or low fat?

What is the difference? Which one should we pick? Is one better than the other? Products marketed as “light” or “low fat” do not mean the food is low in calories or sugar. By law to make a claim like “low fat”, there should be no more than 3g of fat per 100g in solid food or 1.5g of fat per 100ml of a liquid. This is consistent with all low fat foods. “Lighter” just means the food contains fewer grams of fat than the original food E.G. light mayonnaise; however, “lighter” products can be still very high in fats, sugars etc. Therefore, the term “lighter” is meant to lull us into a false sense that the product is healthy (when it may not be)


Sugar content

Keep in mind that sugar listed on a nutritional label includes both naturally occurring sugars (fruit and milk sugars) as well as added sugars. The ingredients list will indicate types of sugar present. An example of why reading labels is important is displayed below.

Two yoghurts are compared with one another; plain yoghurt which contains 10g of sugar per serving and fruit yoghurt which contains 44g of sugar per serving.


 The ingredients listed below are in descending order from highest content to the lowest. It is important to note that there is no sugar on the ingredients list of the plain yoghurt, yet 10g is listed on the nutrition label. This is due to the plain yogurt containing only lactose; a naturally occurring milk sugar.

Plain Yogurt - contains no added sugars

Fruit Yogurt - contains added sugars

If you are concerned about your sugar intake, make sure that added sugars are not listed as one of the first few ingredients. Other names for added sugars include; fruit juice concentrate, maltose, dextrose, sucrose, honey, and maple syrup. If a food is labelled as “no added sugar” then it must not contain any simple sugar (sucrose) for sweetening purposes; it should only contain the natural sugars found in the food itself.

Mullingar Information event with Dr O’Shea

Whelehans pharmacy are teaming Top Obesity Expert and Consultant Endocrinologist Dr Donal O’Shea and other health professionals to hold a Sugar and Obesity Info Event on Monday March 7th at 7:30pm in the Greville Arms Hotel. The event has no cover charge; to avoid disappoitment book your place by calling Whelehans at 044 9334591. Parents and their children are especially welcome. There will be lots of fun interactive activities for children.

Aisling Murray has a Bachelor of Science in Nutrition and offers a one to one specialist nutrition service at Whelehans Pharmacy. Call Whelehans at 04493 34591 for an appointment. Aisling’s Nutriton Clinic costs only €10 per week.



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