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Guide to Diabetes

Understanding Food Labels


Food labels are there to give you the information you need to help you make healthier and more informed food choices.

How Can You Choose A Healthy Option?

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Nutrition Claims – What Do they Really Mean? 


Claims about sugar are based on the total amount of sugar, including sugars which naturally occur in fruit and milk, plus any added sugar.


  • No added sugar this doesn’t mean there’s no sugar in the product, just that no extra sugars has been added, but it may still contain a lot of natural sugar ie. Fruit sugar in fruit juice.The product may contain natural sugars found in milk and fruit. So this product may contain a lot of natural sugar (this will be indicated on the label – ‘contains naturally occurring sugars’).
  • Low sugar –product contains no more than 5g of sugar per 100g or 100ml
  • Unsweetened - no sugar or sweetener has been added to the food to make it taste sweet. This doesn't necessarily mean that the food will not contain natural sugars found in fruit or milk.
  • Reduced Sugar - product has at least 30% less sugar than the standard/regularproduct
  • Sugar free – product contains no more than 0.5g sugar per 100g or 100mls


  • High Fat- This is considered if the product has more than 20% fat
  • Low fat – Product contains no more than 3g fat per 100g - solids (or 1.5g per 100mls - liquids)
  • Reduced Fat – product has at least 30% less fat than the standard/regular  product
  • Less than 5% fat or 95% fat free - indicated food contains less than 5g fat per 100g, for example if a ready meal size was 400g, then the whole meal would contain 20g fat.
  • Fat free-  product contains no more than 0.5g fat or sugar per 100g or 100mls

  • Light  Lite – to use this claim, the product must be at least 30% lower in at least one typical value (listed on the label on the back of the pack), such as calories or fat, than standard products.
  • Low salt/sodium – product contains no more than 0.1g of sodium per 100g or 100mls
  • Source of fibre – contains at least 3g of fibre per 100g
  • High fibre – contains at least 6g of fibre per 100g

What Is The Traffic Light System?

Traffic Light Labelling

Some foods have traffic light labels on the front of the pack. This means you can make choices about the food you eat quickly and easily.
At a glance you can see if the food has a high, medium or low amount of the following nutrients: fat, saturated fat, sugars and salt in 100g of the food.

Having a lot of these nutrients is not good for your long term health so try to avoid having high amounts of these regularly:


  • Red = High – indicates to you that the food is high in one of the nutrients which it is recommended that we cut down on


  • Amber = Medium – indicates that the food is not high or low in one of the nutrients and is an OK choice most of the time


  • Green = Low – indicates that it is low in one of the nutrients and is the healthiest choice

Note: foods displaying the traffic light colours may have a mixture of red, amber and greens. For healthier choices choose them with more amber and greens. See Diagram above


How Can You Choose A Healthy Option?


As a general rule, for a complete main meal or per 100g snack food, use the following guide:

LESS Healthy Option:
15g sugar (or more)
20g fat (or more)
5g saturated fat (or more)
0.5g fibre (or less)
0.6g sodium /1.5g salt (or more)

Healthy Choice:
5g sugar (or less)
3g fat (or less)
1.5g saturated fat (or less)
3g fibre (or more)
0.1 sodium / 0.25g salt (or less)



You Can Find More About Labels At:


Rebecca Pidcock (Diabetes Specialist Dietitian)