Food Labels Explained

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A simple trip to the local shop to choose something healthy to eat has taken on a new complexity for those that want or need to check food labels.
Once you have selected a product, have you ever wondered what all the marks and symbols, courtesy of the Food Standard Agency, actually mean? What is Energy kJ and kcal? What are all these symbols representing?

Well now, you can grab your grub with confidence as we tell you what signs and logos you need to look for to get the best nutrition from your food.

Added ingredients

Found on almost all packaged food items, the ingredients are actually listed in order of their weight, with the largest first.

If an ingredient is mentioned in the products name, for example banana in a ‘banana milkshake’, it will be shown as a percentage (Banana 8%). The same regulation applies to ingredients that you would usually associate with the item. So, in the case of ‘Shepherds Pie’, lamb, which is associated with this meal, would also be shown as a percentage.

Allergy advice

This box is designed to alert people with food allergies or intolerances to whatingredients are contained should they need to avoid them.

Since new rules were brought in back in September 2005, food labels must list all the ingredients, and any ingredients that were originally derived from allergic food must be clearly identified in the ingredients list. Anyone with an allergy or intolerance should ALWAYS read the ingredients list.

Nutritional information

This box will inform you about how much protein, carbohydrate and fat is in the food product. Energy is also mentioned, for example 203 kJ/62kcal, this is simply the units that are used to measure energy. kJ stands for kilojoules and kcal for kilocalorie. These are units of energy, which also represent the energy value of food. All very technical, but the Food Standards Agency insist on this information being included.

There may also be information regarding sugars, fibre, sodium, saturates, vitamins and minerals if a nutritional claim has been made, like ‘low calorie’ or ‘reduced fat’. Manufacturers can add this information voluntarily, even if they have not made a nutritional claim.

Suitable for vegetarians

This is a Vegetarian Society logo and can be added to food packaging voluntary. If it is included, it must not be false or misleading.

To carry this symbol, the product has to fulfil certain requirements and criteria that have been set by the society.

Gluten free

This symbol represents a particularly useful piece of information for people who suffer from gluten intolerance. Gluten is a special type of protein, commonly found in wheat, rye and barley and can severely affect people who have intolerance to it.

Currently, there is no legal definition of the phrase ‘gluten free’, so companies that wish to use this symbol to describe their product must take special measures to ensure they can justify the claim.

So there you have it, these symbols and labels do serve a purpose after all.

A healthy diet should be a balanced diet containing a variety of foods such as fruit, vegetables, starchy food like wholegrain bread and rice and protein foods like meat, fish and eggs. It should also be low in salt, sugar and fat, especially saturated fat.

Of course, this is not always possible for people with food allergies, but these labels should help to guide you to choosing the correct food to achieve that balanced diet.

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