Sugar Awareness Week: Food labels and how to read them

03 November 2017 | Healthy living

We're proud to be a part of Sugar Awareness Week 2017, organised by Action on Sugar. This is the third in a series of blog posts this week from Jenny Rosborough, Action on Sugar's former Campaign Manager.

Taking more notice of the nutritional information on your favourite packaged food – and adjusting your diet accordingly – is a great way to reduce the amount of sugar you eat.

But what exactly should you be looking for?

Healthier choices

Some food producers make it easier for us to make healthier choices by colour coding the nutritional information which you can find on their food’s packaging.

Food with 5g or less of sugar per 100g is represented as green on the label and considered a ‘low-sugar’ product. Food with 22.5g or more of sugar is represented as red and considered a ‘high-sugar’ product. Anything in between is represented as amber.

Free sugar and total sugar

However, these reference intakes refer to ‘total’ sugar, which includes naturally-occurring sugar as well as ‘free’ sugar.

Free sugar is the type of sugar that we are recommended to consume less of, and includes sugar which is added to food and drink, plus sugar found in fruit juice, honey and syrups.

Government guidelines recommend that adults reduce their consumption of ‘free’ sugars to less than 30g (that’s seven teaspoons) a day.

A 150ml portion (small glass) of a smoothie or 100% fruit juice can contribute to a maximum of one of your five-a-day – however, it’s healthier overall to eat fruit, not drink it. 

Sugar contained naturally within the cell structure of whole foods such as fruit or lactose naturally present in milk and dairy products is not defined as ‘free’ sugar and is therefore not associated with the same health outcomes.

Aim for green, not red

So, in short, aim for more green labels than red. And if you are eating food with a red label, remember that naturally-occurring sugar is healthier than free sugar.

Use our free FoodSwitch app with SugarSwitch to help you search for the healthier version of a food or drink quickly and easily.

World Cancer Research Fund recommends limiting the consumption of of sugar-sweetened drinks and processed food high in sugar. Eating too much of these increases the risk of becoming overweight which in turn increases the risk of a number of common cancers.

Jenny Rosborough | 03 November 2017