Nutrition in the Workplace: How to read a food label

We’re starting a new series of blogs focusing on nutritional advice for business owners and their employees.

In the past, we’ve looked at how you can eat healthier in the workplace and maintain a healthy diet when travelling for business as well as sharing some simple tips for healthy summer eating.

But improving your health and wellbeing isn’t just about healthy eating, it also helps to know what you’re buying when you go food shopping.

Fresh is best

Of course, if you are eating fresh foods, the type that comes straight out of the ground or off a tree, you’ll know what you’re getting.

These are by far the best foods for us. However, when you are buying foods that come packaged it’s really important to understand what’s in the food that you are eating.

Here are our top tips on what to look out for when you’re buying food and how to read food labels.

Food labelling law

Food labels can provide a lot of useful information but they can also be hard to navigate.

It's important to get to grips with them because they can help you make healthier food choices.

You obviously don’t need to know the ins and outs of the legislation that relates to food labelling but it helps to know what’s required and why.

At the time of writing (May 2019), food manufacturers and retailers are legally obliged to put the following information on food labels.

  • A list of ingredients
  • The product’s weight or volume
  • The name of the food, with a description for brand names
  • Whether food has been processed (e.g. smoked salmon)
  • Storage instructions
  • A use-by date
  • Clear instructions on how to prepare or cook the food
  • The manufacturer's name and address
  • The place of origin
  • Any genetically modified (GM) ingredients
  • Allergy information
  • The lot or batch number
  • Nutritional information

What do nutritional information labels show?

Nutritional information labels can be really useful to help you shop more healthily.

They will show how much energy in kilojoules (kJ) and kilocalories (kcal) is in a product. They also list the amount (in grams) of:

  • Fat
  • Saturated fat
  • Carbohydrates
  • Sugars
  • Protein
  • Salt
  • Fibre

You’ll usually find this information in a table and in the UK, a traffic light system is used.

How to read a food label

As we said, you don’t necessarily need to know all of this information but seeing that they have been included should show you that the product is following the correct guidelines.

The following tips should also help.

  • Check the ingredients list. Food labels always list ingredients from highest quantity to lowest. So, for example, if you are buying a dried fruit and nut bar, you would expect the first ingredients to be nuts and dried fruit. If you are buying a product that states on the label it contains ‘superfood kale’ but it’s the last ingredients on the label, you know it only has a very small amount in it.
  • Check the serving size. If a packet suggests 2 or 3 servings and states 10g of sugar per serving, the whole pack might actually have 20g or 30g of sugar. So if your servings are larger than those suggested, you may get more than you bargained for.
  • Look at the per-100g list, this can help you to visualise how much of something is in a product. For example, if there is 30g of sugar per 100g, you know its roughly 30% sugar. Look at the packet and visualise just under a third of it as sugar. This is a great way to really ‘see’ what’s in your food.
  • As a general rule, products with fewer ingredients tend to be cleaner. Less than 5 ingredients is a good benchmark. Of course, this doesn’t apply to everything.
  • And finally, if you don’t know what something is on the ingredient panel, look it up or maybe avoid that product until you know for certain what it is.

Nutritional advice

We want to make sure that our clients and their employees find it as easy as possible to eat healthily both at work and at home.

There are plenty of online guides that can help further.

The British Heart Foundation has put together these 10 tips for understanding food labels.

And the NHS also has a detailed breakdown of how to read food labels.

If you’d like some more advice about how our nutritional specialists and occupational health services can improve health and wellbeing in your workplace, get in touch with our team today.

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Categories: Health & WellbeingNutritionOccupational Health

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