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Traffic light labelling

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You're standing in a supermarket aisle looking at two similar products, trying to decide which to choose. You want to make the healthier choice but, as usual, you're in a hurry. Well, help is at hand.

A growing number of supermarkets and food manufacturers are using traffic light colours on the labels of some products to help you make your choice.

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What do the traffic light colours mean?

If we want to eat a healthy diet, one of the key things we should be doing is trying to cut down on fat (especially saturated fat), salt and added sugars. Food products with traffic light labels on the front of the pack show you at-a-glance if the food you are thinking about buying has high, medium or low amounts of fat, saturated fat, sugars and salt, helping you get a better balance. In addition to traffic light colours you will also see the number of grams of fat, saturated fat, sugars and salt in what the manufacturer or retailer suggests as a 'serving' of the food. So, if you see a red light on the front of the pack, you know the food is high in something we should be trying to cut down on. It's fine to have the food occasionally, or as a treat, but try to keep an eye on how often you choose these foods, or try eating them in smaller amounts. If you see amber, you know the food isn't high or low in the nutrient, so this is an OK choice most of the time, but you might want to go for green for that nutrient some of the time. Green means the food is low in that nutrient. The more green lights, the healthier the choice. Many of the foods with traffic light colours that you see in the shops will have a mixture of red, amber and greens. So, when you're choosing between similar products, try to go for more greens and ambers, and fewer reds, if you want to make the healthier choice. The traffic light colours will make it easier for you to compare products at-a-glance. The label also tells you how much of each nutrient is in a portion, so if two labels have similar colours you can compare these figures, and choose the one that is lower to make a healthier choice. But remember, it's all about getting the overall balance of our diet right.

How do traffic light colours fit into a healthy diet?

If you want to choose a healthy diet, you should:

Traffic light colours can help you get the balance right by helping you to choose between products and keep a check on the amount of foods high in fat, sugars and salt that you are eating. You can use the signpost labelling to help put you in control, so keep a look out for the colours on the front of food packs. Making the healthy choice isn't always easy – sometimes there seems to be so much to remember. But with traffic light colours you just need to go for as many greens as you can and avoid choosing too many reds. This way you'll know you'll be making a healthier choice. You should also try to remember that although some products may contain a lot of sugars, they can be healthier choices if they contain lots of fruit. You can tell this by checking the ingredients list; the higher up the ingredients list the more fruit there is.

Check it out

Some products you might have thought were healthy choices could qualify for red lights. Try comparing the fat and salt content of your favourite sandwich with other sandwiches. For example, a Waitrose poached salmon and cucumber sandwich qualifies for three green lights. Does your sandwich?

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What do the different traffic lights look like?

Below are some examples of labels currently in stores. Click on the 'Traffic light label adopters' PDF below to see them. Although the traffic light label designs may look different, you can still compare these foods because the companies are all using the Food Standards Agency guidelines. So when, for example, you are deciding between two pizzas, check out the colours to make a healthier choice. These are the FSA examples of the traffic lights.

Which foods have traffic light colours on them?

All of the manufacturers and retailers shown above are using traffic light labelling on some or all of their products, and the Agency is also in discussions with other companies that are considering using it. Awareness of traffic light labelling is also on the increase in the service sector, with train companies such as GNER and Virgin, Roadchef motorway service stations, and shoppers websites such as all using the Agency's recommended approach. The Agency recommends that traffic light colours are used on processed convenience foods such as ready meals, pizzas, sausages, burgers, pies, sandwiches and breakfast cereals. This is because people have told us that they find it difficult to understand the nutritional content of these sorts of foods.

When will the traffic light colours be in other supermarkets and in my local shop?

The FSA is continuing to encourage as many supermarkets, manufacturers and service providers as possible to use this approach. If you'd like to see them in your supermarket, or on your favourite products, why not contact the supermarket or manufacturer yourself? Please let us know what you think of traffic light labelling by completing our feedback form available at the link below.

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How can I get more nutritional information?

The traffic light colours on the front of food packs are a quick and easy guide, but when you have time, and if you are particularly interested in finding out more, you can still check the back of packs for more information. On the back of some food packs, you will find the nutrition panel, Guideline Daily Amounts information and the ingredients list.

Nutrition panel

You often see this panel on the back of food packs. It gives the nutritional breakdown of the food. This is the sort of information you might see: the amount of energy, protein, carbohydrates, sugars, fat, dietary fibre and sodium. You can use this information to help you make healthier choices. See the link below for more information and an explanation of these terms.

Guideline Daily Amounts

Guideline Daily Amounts (GDAs) were developed by food manufacturers and retailers and you can find out more by visiting the IGD website. IGD is a food and grocery industry research organisation.

Ingredients list

To get a feel for whether a product is high in a certain ingredient such as fat, salt or added sugars, you might need to look at the ingredients list. Ingredients lists always start with the biggest ingredient first and are listed in descending order of weight at the time they were used to make the food.

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