A guide to decoding food labels - Achieve Oxfordshire
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Making healthy choices: a guide to decoding food labels

Making healthy choices: a guide to decoding food labels 

 Making healthy choices and sticking to the 400-600-600 plan can be hard when food labels seem to be deliberately written to confuse.  


Do you look at food labels when shopping? Sometimes it looks like a mess of random numbers, weights and percentages. Working out what’s healthy and what’s not can seem like an impossible task! Fear no longer, we’re on hand to decode these tricky little labels. Once you know what to look for, using food labels can help you to make healthy choices when shopping and buying food, especially when on the go.  


Quick guide to using food labels to make healthy choices  


Quick guide to using food labels to make healthy choices


Reading food labels 


Nutrition labels generally include information on energy (calories), protein, carbohydrates and fat. It may also provide additional information on saturated far, sugars, sodium, salt and fibre. All nutrition information is provided per 100 grams and sometimes per potion of the food.  


Labels on the front of packaging 


These labels give a quick guide to: 

  • Calories 
  • Sugar content 
  • Fat content 
  • Salt content 


Quick guide to using food labels to make healthy choices 

This usually relates to a ‘serving’ or ‘portion’ of a good. BE CAREFUL – this can be confusing, as the label doesn’t state whether this is for a man or a woman and the manufacturer’s interpretation of a serving size can differ wildly from yours. Have you ever noticed lunchtime “meal deal” items often tell you how many calories are in half the packet, although most people would finish it off without a second thought? Something you believe to be a healthy choice might turn out to be the exact opposite. 




Most pre-packaged food products also have a list of ingredients. This list can help you work out whether a product is a healthy choice. Ingredients are listed in order of weight, so the main ingredients always come first. If sugar, oil, butter or salt come near the top of the list, then you know that the food contains a proportionally high amount.  


How do I know if a food is high in fat, sugar or salt?  


There are guidelines to tell you if a food is high in fat, sugar or salt: 


Quick guide to using food labels to make healthy choices


Obviously most people don’t have time during their hurried weekly shop to be poring over food labels. This is where the colour-coded labels on the front of packaging come in useful: red means something is high in fat, sugar or salt, medium is orange, and low is green.


If you want to make healthy choices but you’re in a hurry this enables you to quickly compare foods. Aim to have more greens and ambers than reds.  Change4Life have also produced a food scanner app that can quickly give you this information. You can download it by clicking HERE. 


Consider also that even healthy ready meals are often higher in fat and calories than home-cooked meals. You might even save yourself money as well. Have you tried our 400-600-600 recipes? We’ve rounded up some of our favourite healthy recipes from across the web, click HERE to check them out!