Guide to Food Labelling

This information is included by kind permission of the Salisbury (UK) and District Heart Support Group

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Today, more than ever, we are aware of what we eat. We are swamped with information about the value of healthy eating. But many of us find it difficult to decide what products actually contain from the label.

All those figures can be very confusing and sometimes it's hard to work out how much of everything we should be eating to have a healthier heart.

Hopefully this section and our Healthy heart food chart will help you to understand what food labels mean so that it is easier for you to choose foods which keep your heart healthy.

What to look for when you go shopping.

If you have heart disease, watching what you eat is very important. When you look at a food label, you should look at:

Even if you don't have heart disease, eating foods which are low in fat, saturated fat and salt can help cut down your risk of developing heart disease in the future.

The recommended daily intakes for the most important nutrients listed on food labels are:

Men Women
Fat (Total) 95.0g 70.0g
of which saturates 30.0g 20.0g
Sodium 2.5g 2.0g
Sugar 70.0g 50.0g
Fibre 20.0g 16.0g

You should use these figures only as a guide.

In general, men need about 2,500 Kcals (calories) each day and women need about 2,000 Kcals. However, what you need will be different from someone else. For example, someone who is very active will need more energy than someone who is not. This is the same for other nutrients listed in the table.

Fat.

Eating too much fat has been linked with a greater risk of heart disease. Also, the more fat you eat, the more likely you are to put on weight. People who are overweight tend to have higher blood cholesterol levels - both are bad for your heart.

Saturated fats.

Saturated fats tend to be hard and waxy, like cheese and butter. This is the type of fat which raises blood cholesterol, increasing your risk of a heart attack.

Unsaturated fats.

Made up of monounsaturates and polyunsaturates tend to be softer like margarine made from sunflower oil, or a liquid like olive oil. These can have good effect on cholesterol levels if you use them instead of saturated fats.

Sodium (Salt).

On a food label, salt is often called sodium. Eating too much salt can cause high blood pressure, increasing your risk of heart disease.

Sugar.

There is no direct link between sugar and heart disease. But eating too many sugary foods doesn't help if you are watching your weight.

Fibre.

Eating more fibre adds bulk to your diet and fills you up with foods that are healthy for your heart. However, fibre probably does not have a direct effect on heart disease. Fibre is found in fruit, vegetables, pulses like beans and lentils, wholegrain bread and high fibre breakfast cereals.

Calories.

Energy in food is measured in calories or kilojoules (written as kcal or KJ on food labels). If you eat more energy than you need for the amount of physical activity you do, you will become overweight.

To keep your heart healthy, you should watch how much fat you eat rather than count the calories. If you cut down on the fat you eat then you will also cut down on the calories.

How much is a lot or a little.

Try using the table below to work out how much is 'a lot' or 'a little' fat, saturated fat, sodium and other nutrients in food.

Guide to Food Labelling
A Lot A Little
10.0g of sugars 2.0g of sugars
20.0g of fat 3.0g of fat
5.0g of saturates 1.0g of saturates
3.0g of fibre 0.5g of fibre
0.5g of sodium 0.1g of sodium

Check claims such as 'LOW FAT' with care. A bag of crisps that claim to contain 25% less fat than normal crisps may still contain a lot of fat. Look at the actual fat content on the back of the packet and see what percentage it is of your recommended daily amount.

Our Healthy heart food chart shows you how to choose a variety of foods to help you lower your fat levels.

Source - British Heart Foundation - Guide to Food Labelling