Understanding food labels

Understanding food labelling is a vital part of maintaining a healthy diet, although this can be confusing.

Many snack foods are advertised or packaged as healthy options because they are reduced-fat or low-fat but they don’t mention the actual fat or calorie content, or whether it is lower in fat than the ‘less healthy’ alternative. So it is important to check and read the food labels. Manufacturers are now required by law to give nutritional information on the food label if they make a nutritional claim, such as low-fat or high fibre.

This article is written by CS Healthcare, a specialist provider of health insurance. 

Legally, any food that claims to be ‘fat-free’ should have less than 0.15g fat per 100g, whereas foods that claim to be ‘low fat’ should contain less than 3g fat per 100g. As a general rule, more than 20g fat per 100g is too much.

Reduced fat products aren’t automatically low in fat, nor are they necessarily lower in calories than their full-fat alternatives. Using the term ‘reduced fat’ on food packaging simply means the food must contain 25% less fat than its equivalent standard product. Similarly, beware of products labelled ‘light’ or ‘lite’. There is no legal definition for these terms, so manufacturers often use them as they wish.

When choosing snacks it’s important to consider whether products have been highly processed. For example, rice cakes are marketed as both low in fat and sugar. But, they are also highly processed, and this puts them into a category where they are digested quickly and create a rise in blood sugar levels, causing you to feel hungry sooner. Natural foods such as fruit, vegetables and wholemeal products (complex carbohydrates) will release sugar into the bloodstream at a slower rate, providing sustained energy, making you feel more satisfied. A good way of checking a favourite food is to use the Glycaemic Index, which rates all foods from 0 to 100, and sets sugar (glucose) at the top rate of 100 (as used by diabetics). For further information concerning the Glycaemic Index, visit

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This article comes to you from CS Healthcare, the specialist provider of low cost, comprehensive health insurance to all parts of the civil service, public sector and not-for-profit organisations. For more information contact them on 0800 917 4325† or alternatively visit   

Civil Service Healthcare is a registered friendly society authorised and regulated by the Financial Services Authority (FSA) reg no 205346. This article is intended as general advice only.  If you or a family member has any medical concerns, please contact your GP or medic. † Calls may be recorded or monitored for training, quality assurance purposes and/or prevention and detection of crime.

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Understanding food labels