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How to read food labels

Understanding how to read the labels on foods and drinks helps us make healthier choices.

It's a legal requirement that any food sold in the UK must have certain information included as a label on its packaging. We call these traffic light labels.

Traffic light labels

Traffic light labels usually show how healthy an item is by using a red, amber or green marker. It tells you whether a food has high, medium or low amounts of fat, saturated fat, sugars and salt.

It will also tell you the number of calories and kilojoules in that particular product. The traffic light colours are there to help you make quick and easy healthy food choices:

  • Green is low: healthier choice
  • Amber is medium: go steady
  • Red is high: every now and again

There's an image on this page of how traffic light labels may look on the foods you buy. Most labels will have a mixture of colours on the traffic light label.

Try and choose food and drinks that have more green and amber labels. Choose less items that have red. It's ok to eat foods which have amber and red colours sometimes or to try and eat those foods in smaller amounts.

Why not have a look at the traffic light labels of some of your favourite foods and see what the colours are?

Nutritional label

Producers must include the nutritional value on any pre-packed food they sell in the UK. This is a legal requirement.

On the back of food packets you should find a label that looks like the example on this page.

Information is given in terms of 100g or 100ml of the food for the following nutrients:

  • Energy (in kilojoules or calories)
  • Protein (in grams)
  • Carbohydrate (in grams)
  • Fat (in grams)

It may also show:

  • Sugars (in grams)
  • Saturates (in grams)
  • Fibre (in grams)
  • Sodium (in grams)

Sodium and salt

Sodium and salt are not quite the same. If the label only gives sodium, you can work out the amount of salt in it by multiplying the total sodium by 2.5.

For example, 1g of sodium per 100g is 2.5g of salt per 100g. To learn more about how much you should aim to eat of these nutrient and food groups, see What is healthy eating: the Eatwell guide.

List of ingredients

Almost all pre-packed food with more than one ingredient must list the individual ingredients on the back of the pack.

Ingredients are usually listed in order of how big a percentage they are in the food. So the ingredients listed first make up most of the product you are buying.

Examples of labels


A traffic light label for food, showing how much energy, fat, saturated fat, sugar and salt is in the product.
A traffic light food label

This label tells us that this product is red (high) in sugars, amber (medium) in salt and green (low) in fat and saturated fat. Traffic light information can be given as per 100g or as per portion or serving. If it's per 100g, you can compare similar products if they also have per 100g information. If it's per portion or serving, then you can't compare, as portions sizes can vary.

A nutritional label for a food product, showing levels of energy, fats, sugars, fibre, protein and salt.
A nutritional food label

This label shows information about energy, fats, carbohydrates, sugars, fibre, protein and salt. The label gives information per 100g (at number 1), and per portion or serving (at number 2). It also shows, beside the number 3, that there are 16 servings in this product.

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