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Know your Labels

Current Challenges

Children are having nearly three times more sugar than the recommended daily amount every day. The link between dental decay and the consumption of foods and drinks high in sugar is well established. Sugars in drinks play a significant role in the development of overweight and obesity in children and young people.

A quarter of children’s saturated fat comes from unhealthy snacks such as cakes, pastries and chocolate. High saturated and trans fat intakes are associated with raised blood cholesterol levels. Studies have shown that blood cholesterol levels ‘track’ through childhood, adolescence and into adulthood and are a major risk factor for coronary heart disease in later life.

A high salt diet can cause health issues such as high blood pressure, in later life. Most of the salt in our diet comes from manufactured and processed foods. Children are consuming similar amounts of salt to adults at around 9g per day!

Label Reading

There are a number of practical steps we can make to achieve positive changes long term and reading food labels can help you choose what you buy and keep a check on what’s in your food and drink. There are a number of apps which will support you in making informed choices.

Change4Life’s Be Food Smart App is free for families to download and helps them to make healthier food choices by cutting down on fat, salt and sugar. Families can scan the barcode of different food and drink products allowing them to compare the ingredients in different brands and select the healthiest options.

Early Start Group Wellbeing and Nutrition Know your label blog be food smart appEarly Start Group Wellbeing and Nutrition Know your Labels Blog change for life logo

How much is too much?

When reading food labels the following are some key points to consider.

  • Nutritional information can be in the form of a table or grid, but can also appear as text
  • Checking the ingredients list and nutritional information on a product can help you to decide whether or not it is healthy and enables you to choose products which are lower in saturated fat, sugar and salt
  • Information on energy (calories), fat, carbohydrates and protein can be found on the label and in some information on fibre, sugar, sodium, salt and saturated fat are also listed. This information will be provided per 100g or per serving/portion. Always read labels per 100g to make like for like comparisons
  • In order to support us to make healthier choices the Department of Health have issued guidelines (Table 1) enabling us to classify products as either high, medium or low in salt, sugar, fat, etc. For example, when reading a label a low sugar product would be one that has less than 5g of sugar per 100g and a high sugar product would be one that has more than 22.5g of sugar per 100g. Try to chose products which are low or medium in saturated fat, sugar and low in salt (sodium), and limit those that are high.

Table 1:

Early Start Group Wellbeing and Nutrition Know your Labels label reading

It is important to take extra care when reading food labels as some ingredients such as sugar, salt and fat may be listed under different names (see table 2).

Table 2

Early Start Group Wellbeing and Nutrition Know your Labels blog different food names

Using the food labelling guide compare the nutritional profile of the following cereals. Which is a more appropriate choice for breakfast?

Early Start Group Wellbeing and Nutrition Know your Labels blog wheat cerealEarly Start Group Wellbeing and Nutrition Know your Labels blog chocolate cereal

Early Start Group Wellbeing and Nutrition Know your labels blog whear cereal nutritional informationEarly Start Group Wellbeing and Nutrition Know your Labels Blog Chocolate Cereal Nutritional information

The chocolate cereal is high in sugar and contains almost SIX TIMES the amount found in the wheat biscuits. Set yourself a challenge and start to review the labels of some of your favourite products. Are there any smart foods swaps you could make by choosing lower salt, sugar and fat products? You can receive additional support by attending our Food and Nutrition for Toddlers module or download the Change4Life Be Food Smart app.

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