You often see a panel on food labels giving the nutritional breakdown of the food.
Manufacturers are required by law to give this information if the label also makes a nutritional claim such as low fat or high fibre. Sometimes manufacturers give this information voluntarily.
When nutritional information is given on a label, it must show the amount of each of the following in 100 g or 100 ml of the food:
- energy (in kJ and kcal)
- protein (in g)
- carbohydrate (in g)
- fat (in g)
Sometimes you will also see amounts per serving, but this must be in addition to the 100 g or 100 ml breakdown.
These terms and some others you might see are explained below.
EnergyThis is the amount of energy that the food will give you when you eat it. It is measured either in calories (kcal) or joules (kJ).
ProteinThe body needs protein to grow and repair itself. Most adults in the UK get more than enough protein for their needs. Protein-rich foods include meat, fish, milk and dairy foods, eggs, beans, lentils and nuts.
CarbohydratesThere are two types of carbohydrates that the body turns into energy: simple and complex.
Simple carbohydrates are often listed on food labels as 'Carbohydrates (of which sugars)'. This includes added sugars and the natural sugars found in fruit and milk.
Complex carbohydrates are also called starchy foods. Starchy foods include bread, cereals, rice, pasta and potatoes. Try to choose wholegrain varieties whenever you can. We should get most of our energy from complex carbohydrates (or starchy foods) rather than those containing sugar.
Sometimes you will only see a total figure for carbohydrates on food labels. This includes the carbohydrates from starchy foods and from simple carbohydrates.
FatsMany food labels give figures for the product's fat content. Some food labels also break the figures down into these different types of fat: saturates, monounsaturates and polyunsaturates.
Saturated fat can raise blood cholesterol levels, which increases the chance of developing heart disease.
Monounsaturates and polyunsaturates are both types of unsaturated fat. These don't raise blood cholesterol in the same way as saturated fats and provide us with the essential fatty acids that the body needs.
Most people know that we should be cutting down on fat. But it's even more important to try to replace the saturated fat we eat with unsaturated fat.
Dietary fibreFibre helps prevent constipation, piles and bowel problems. Good sources of fibre include some breakfast cereals, kidney beans, mixed unsalted nuts, wholemeal bread, baked beans, fruit and vegetables.
SaltLots of food labels tell you how much salt is in 100g of the food. Sometimes they only give a figure for sodium, or sometimes they might give both.
Sodium x 2.5 = salt
If you know how much sodium is in a food, you can work out roughly the amount of salt it contains by multiplying the sodium level by 2.5.
Eating too much salt can raise your blood pressure, which triples your risk of developing heart disease or stroke.