Monthly Archives: August 2013

Understanding food labels

Confused about food labels? Read on for some advice and tips…

Food labels are designed to give you useful information about a food product, but they can often do the opposite by confusing parents trying to make healthy choices for their children. So how can you use food labels to choose healthy foods for your children?

What has to be on a food label?

By law food labels must include the product name, ingredients, guidance on storage, a ‘best before’ date, allergy advice and instructions for use.

Allergy advice includes 14 ingredients that are the most likely foods to cause food allergy. If a food contains any of these 14 ingredients, it must be clearly stated.

Understanding food labels

I will use an example from my fridge to illustrate how to understand the information that is presented to you on a food label.

Creamy yoghurt with fruit – Peach


Yoghurt (whole milk, milk protein, cream (1.1%), yoghurt cultures), peach (8%), sugar, stabilisers (modified maize starch, pectin, guar gum), flavourings, acidity regulators, (citric acid, calcium citrate), colourings (paprika extract)

Contains: milk

Nutrition information:

TYPICAL VALUES per 100g per serving (120g)           
Energy 98 kcal 118 kcal
Protein 5.0g 6.0g
Carbohydrateof which sugars 12.7g12.4g 15.2g14.9g
Fatof which saturates 3.0g2.1g 3.6g2.5g
Fibre 0.3g 0.4g

The single most important thing to remember about a food label is that the ingredients are listed in descending order…the largest ingredient is first and the smallest is last.

So in the example above, yoghurt is the largest ingredient (thank goodness as this is a yoghurt!!) and next is peach at 8% (or 8g per 100g) and then sugar is listed after peach and so it must be less than 8% . And the smallest ingredients are stabilisers, flavourings, acidity regulators and colourings.

The portion size is usually an adult portion but for this yoghurt a  child is likely to eat the whole 120g pot. A toddler may eat 1/2 to 3/4 of the pot.

Carbohydrates and sugar…

One of the most confusing things about food labels is the ‘of which sugars’ item, as most people think this is the added sugar in the product but it is not. In dairy products like yoghurt, you have 3 types of sugars:

Lactose = milk sugar

Fructose = fruit sugar

Sucrose = added sugar (table sugar)

The amount stated next to ‘of which sugars’ is the total sugar including all of the above and so it is impossible to find out the added sugar, which is what everyone actually wants to know! Try to compare similar products to each other and choose one with a lower sugar content.

What food labels do NOT tell you?

Remember that food labels do NOT tell you how nutritious a particular food is. This is important to remember in the context of your child’s whole diet, not just one particular food. Children need a balance of all food groups and one food cannot provide all the nutrients required for healthy growth and development. It is the combination of foods that is important, as some foods are high in certain nutrients and low in others, but when they are combined with other foods they can provide a healthy, balanced meal (see earlier post on ‘Portion sizes’).

As an example: Cheese

Cheese is a nutritious food for toddlers and children particularly for its calcium and protein content. But it has quite a lot of total and saturated fat in it and so will be labeled as “high fat”. However, in the context of a child’s whole diet, a piece of cheese is very nutritious even if it is high in fat.

 Try not to think of “good” and “bad” foods, just healthy, balanced diets.

 Paula x



Can food additives affect children’s behaviour?

Ever seen E numbers on a food label and wondered what they were? Have you ever wondered if food additives could affect your child’s behaviour? New research from the Food Standards Agency could provide some answers.

What are E numbers?

All food additives, whether natural or artificial, must go through rigorous safety assessment and approval procedures, and must comply with European Union (EU) legislation. They are only allowed to be used if experts decide that they are necessary and safe. If a food additive has an E number, this shows it has passed safety tests and been approved for use throughout the EU (Source:

Who carried out the research?

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) commissioned a research study to look at the effects of 6 artificial food colourings and a preservative on children’s behaviour. This study was carried out by the University of Southampton, UK and took place from September 2004 to March 2007.

It is important to note that the children were unselected from the general population – nurseries, play groups and pre-schools for the 3 year olds (153 children) and schools for the 8-9 year olds (144 children), from the local area.

Which food additives were studied and what foods contain these food additives?

Additive Often found in:
Tartrazine E102 Fizzy drinks, ice creams, sweets, chewing gum, jam, yoghurt and infant medicines
Quinoline yellow E104 Ice creams/lollies and smoked haddock
Sunshine yellow E110 Orange jelly, apricot jam, packet soup, canned fish, hot chocolate mixes and infant medicines
Carmoisine E122 Jams, sweets, sauces, yoghurts, jellies, cheesecake mixes and infant medicines
Ponceau 4R E124 Dessert toppings, jelly, canned strawberries and fruit pie fillings, salami, seafood dressings and infant medicines
Allura red A4 E129 Sweets, drinks and infant medicines
Sodium Benzoate E211 Soft drinks (fizzy drinks, squashes and fruit juices), cakes, jellies, sweets, crisps and infant medicines


What did the results of the study find?

The study showed increases in the levels of some children’s hyperactive behaviour when they were challenged with combinations of particular food colours together with sodium benzoate, compared with a placebo. But the increases were not consistent across the two age groups and the two mixtures of food additives used.

(Source: Committee on Toxicity of Chemicals in Food, Consumer products and the Environment).

The results from this study provided further support for a previous study conducted on the Isle of Wight, UK a few years ago.

What the study did NOT show…

The findings of the study did not provide any information on the likely biological mechanism for the observed differences in hyperactivity. In other words, the study could not explain how the colourings and/or preservative were causing the changes in children’s behaviour.

 So…can food additives affect children’s behaviour?

According to the research by the FSA, the answer is yes but it appears to be only certain food additives that do and they don’t affect all children.

It is not clear if it is the mixture of all of these food colours and preservative combined that affects children’s behaviour or if it is each one individually.

If you would like to read further:

Paula x