Healthy Living: How to understand nutrition labels

Healthy Living: How to understand nutrition labels

Do you ever get completely overwhelmed when it comes to nutrition? Do you pick up products in the supermarket, take one look at the label and wonder what on earth you are supposed to be looking for!

Well you are not alone.

This is a problem I see time and time again in my clinic. People are so overwhelmed by all the conflicting information they see regarding nutrition, they just don’t know what to look for.

Nutrition labels can be very helpful (and very confusing) and can help you make better choices between products.

However if you don’t know what you should be looking for, then they aren’t going to be much used to you.

Read on for my full guide on how to read nutrition labels.

By law all pre-packed foods have a nutrition label on the back or side of the packaging.

These labels usually include information on energy in kilojoules (kJ) or kilocalories (kcal), usually referred to as calories and is the one most of us are drawn too.

However it is not the most important factor on a nutrition label.

They also include information on protein, carbohydrate and fat. They may provide additional information on saturated fat, sugars, fibre, sodium and salt.

All nutrition information is provided per 100 grams and sometimes per portion of the food. Most labels will also show RI % which is the reference intake of an average adult. For example 200kcal is 10% of the RI for an average adult.

Reference intakes are guidelines about the approximate amount of particular nutrients and energy required for a healthy diet.

Because individual requirements for energy and nutrients are different for all people, the reference intakes are not intended as targets.

Instead they are intended to give a useful indication of how a particular nutrient or amount of energy fits into your daily diet.

Nutrition labels on the front of packaging

Most food manufacturers also display nutritional information on the front of pre-packed food as a traffic light system. This is very useful when you want to compare different food products at a glance. These traffic light labels, usually give a quick guide to:


fat content

saturated fat content

sugar content

salt content

These labels provide information on the number of grams of fat, saturated fat, sugars and salt, and the amount of calories in a serving or portion of the food.

Be aware, however, that the manufacturer's idea of a portion may be different from yours.

Colour-coded nutritional information, as shown in the image below, tells you at a glance if the food has high, medium or low amounts of fat, saturated fat, sugars and salt.

Red means high

Amber means medium

Green means low

If you buy a food that has all or mostly green lights, you know straight away that it's a healthier choice. An amber light means neither high nor low, so you can eat foods with all or mostly amber lights, but not all of the time.

But a red light means the food is high in fat, saturated fat, salt or sugars and these are the foods we should cut down on. Try to eat these foods less often and in small amounts.

Take note of Ingredients list

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

Ingredients are 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 high-fat ingredients, such as, cream, butter or oil, then the food in question is a high-fat food.

If the first few ingredients on the list are sugar, glucose, syrup etc then you know it is a high sugar product.

If after reading all of that you are still wondering how do you know if a food is too high in fat, saturated fat, sugar or salt, then follow the guide 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


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)

Do you struggle reading labels or just getting the right balance in your diet?

Why not get in touch and make an appointment and let me guide you on how to get the balance right.

There is no time like the present! I am taking bookings for new and existing clients, so just pop me a message if you would like to schedule an appointment. contact details below.

Debbie Devane from The Nutri Coach is a qualified Nutritional Therapist and health & lifestyle coach, Debbie runs her clinic from the Glenard Clinic in Mountmellick and also offers one to one and group online consultations.

Debbie is also Nutritionist to the Offaly GAA senior footballers.

For more information or to make an appointment email Debbie at

Ph: 086-1720055

Facebook: The Nutri Coach @debbiedevanethenutricoach

Instagram: the_nutricoach

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