Key Message: Food labelling is not only a legal requirement for food traders, but can be used to keep food safe, reduce food waste and know the ingredients and allergens in the food for making informed choices.

What is a Food Label?

Food labels are an important channel of communication, informing consumers what a product is, what it contains, and how to handle, prepare and eat it safely. As society shifts from buying food directly from producers to buying prepackaged food from around the world, it is important to provide consumers with reliable and accurate instructions.

What is a Food Label

Why are food labels useful?

Food labels serve multiple purposes. It prevents food sellers from misrepresenting information on packaging as they are required by law to ensure that the information shown is accurate. In addition, labelling the expiration date and best before date can help reduce food waste. Given that diet-related non-communicable diseases such as diabetes and heart disease are increasing the healthcare burden around the world, nutrition labels are also useful tools to assist consumers in making healthy food choices.

Why are food labels useful

What is a nutrition label?

Nutrition labels are part of food labels. The "1+7" on the nutrition label refers to the energy value and the content of seven specified nutrients, namely protein, carbohydrates, total fat, saturated fat, trans fat, sodium and sugar.

Energy
  • Supports activities of the human body.
  • If energy intake is more energy than energy spent, body weight will increase.
  • Energy requirements varies with individuals.
Protein
  • Essential for growth and maintenance of body, muscles, bones and teeth.
  • Daily intake goal: 60 grams (calculated based on a 2000 kcal meal).
Carbohydrate
  • Major source of energy.
  • Daily intake goal: 300 grams (calculated based on a 2000 kcal meal).
Sugar
  • Immediate source of energy for muscles and the brain.
  • Excessive intake of sugars can lead to obesity and dental decay.
  • Daily intake upper limit: 50 grams (calculated based on a 2000 kcal meal).
Total fat
  • As energy reserve and maintain normal body functions.
  • Excessive intake: higher risk of overweight or obesity.
  • Daily intake upper limit: 60 grams (calculated based on a 2000 kcal meal).
Saturated fat
  • May raise the "bad" cholesterol in blood and reduce the "good" cholesterol, thus increasing the risk of heart disease.
  • Daily intake upper limit: 20 grams (calculated based on a 2000 kcal meal).
Trans fat
  • May raise the "bad" cholesterol in blood and increase the risk of heart disease.
  • Daily intake upper limit: 2.2 grams (calculated based on a 2000 kcal meal).
Sodium (or salt)
  • Maintain normal nerve transmission and muscle contraction.
  • Excessive intake: higher risk of hypertension and stomach cancer.
  • Daily intake upper limit: 2000 mg (not related to energy)。

Use of nutrition labels to reduce the risk of non-communicable diseases

To reduce the risk of non-communicable diseases, we should pay special attention to the amount of fat, sugar and sodium in our food choices.

Fat Fat can be broadly classified into saturated fat and unsaturated fat. Among unsaturated fat, trans fat has particularly adverse effects on health.
Sugars Sugars are also a sub-set of carbohydrates, which can provide immediate energy for muscles and the brain. Excessive intake of sugars can lead to obesity and dental decay.
Sodium Sodium is an essential mineral for the human body. It is required for nerve transmission and muscle contraction. Excessive intake of sodium can lead to hypertension and cardiovascular diseases.

Now, let's practise choosing foods with low or lower sodium, saturated fat and trans fat by using two packs of biscuits with hypothetical nutrient profile according to the three tips below.

  1. Any nutrient content claim?
    To facilitate the public to select foods with less salt or sugar, some products may display the labels under the 'Salt / Sugar' Label Scheme for Prepackaged Food Products. In this example, Biscuits B with the claim "Low Salt" is a better choice than Biscuits A.
  2. Compare nutrition labels
    Use the same reference amount (e.g. sodium content per 100g) when making comparison. In this example, Biscuits B is a better option than Biscuits A because of lower sodium, saturated fat and trans fat.
  3. Compare the nutrient intake with the daily intake upper limit
    The Shopping Card designed by the Centre for Food Safety list the daily intake upper limits recommended by the World Health Organization. In this example, 100g of Biscuits B contributes 5.5% (i.e. 110mg/2000mg), 8% (i.e. 1.6g/20g) and 18% (i.e. 0.4g/2.2g) of the daily intake upper limits of sodium, saturated fat and trans fat respectively.

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