Nutrition Labelling
Food Labelling Help

A guide to help understand food labelling information and highlight products which are healthy using the traffic light labelling scheme.

Food Labels Made Easy

By Dietitian, Juliette Kellow BSc RD

If you’re struggling to make sense of all the food labelling information that food products now seem to have, consumer association Which? has come to the rescue with a handy guide to help you choose healthier products when you’re in the supermarket.

Which? is concerned that many manufacturers are opting to label their products with Guideline Daily Amounts (GDAs) rather than Traffic Lights – the Government’s recommended scheme developed by the Food Standards Agency (FSA).

How to Read Food Labels

The Traffic Light Scheme

Provides a colour code for four main nutrients we should eat less of – fat, saturates, sugars and salt – based on traffic light colours.

The colours are worked out by looking at the nutrient content per 100g of the food: green indicates a low content, amber a medium content and red a high content.

The FSA says that providing information in this way means customers can quickly compare two products – and opt for the healthier one.

Guideline Daily Amount

GDAs typically compare the amount of calories, fat, saturates, sugars and salt contained in a typical serving of the product with the Guideline Daily Amount – the amount that different groups of people need for a balanced, healthy diet. They then express this amount as a percentage.

Despite the fact that research carried out by the FSA and Which? shows that consumers more easily understand the Traffic Light scheme, several large retailers including Tesco, Morrisons and Somerfield and at least 21 companies, including Kellogg's, Kraft, Danone and Walkers, have opted for the GDA system.

Neil Fowler, editor of Which? says, “Many of us shop in a hurry and don’t have time to examine the food nutrition labels in detail. Clear, traffic light colours on the front of packs are crucial to show shoppers the way to quick and easy, healthy food choices – all companies should do this.”

As a result, for those products that don’t currently use Traffic Lights on their packaging, Which? has devised a handy shopping card to help you see at a glance whether the foods you are putting in your shopping trolley get a green, amber or red for fat, saturates, sugars and salt.

To download the card for free, visit

WLR says:

WLR is supportive of the Traffic Light scheme and so think this is a great idea.

There’s good evidence that consumers tend to understand Traffic Lights and find them simple to use and good for making easy comparisons.

In contrast, research shows that many consumers don’t understand food labels showing percentages, indicating that the GDA scheme is too complex and not simple enough to help consumers make healthier choices.

It’s also worth bearing in mind that GDAs for fat, saturates, sugars and salt are recommended maximums and not targets to try and reach.

Plus, the GDA for calories – 2,000 calories for women and 2,500 calories for men – is based on helping adults maintain a healthy weight.

With 60 percent of the population now overweight or obese, it’s clear that many of us should reduce our calorie intake below the GDA in order to lose weight. Furthermore, for anyone trying to lose weight, looking at the GDA for calories isn’t appropriate and may cause even more confusion.

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To download the card for free, visit

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