How to become a food label champion

Do you know how to read a food label?

Learning how to read food labels can be a useful tool when deciding what low carb foods to choose in the supermarket.

The supermarket shelves can be a minefield for many people, but it doesn’t have to be difficult. With this guide we can help to navigate you around the food label, so you can become a food label champion.

Things to look out for:

The ingredients list (on the back of pack)

When reading the ingredients list, the first ingredient is the largest component of the food product. So for example, if sugar is the first ingredient listed, this will be the main constituent of the food. Based on the Low Carb Program principles, it is best to avoid a product if this is the case. An example of this is Jordan’s Super Berry Granola; the second ingredient in the list is sugar.

It is worth noting that sugar is not always listed as ‘sugar’, it can also be listed as glucose, fructose, honey, invert sugar and syrup.

Allergens (in the ingredients list)

If you have a food allergy or intolerance the ingredients list can be a useful tool in identifying whether the product is suitable or not. The 14 key allergens must be highlighted in bold in the ingredients list, and can include cereals containing gluten, crustaceans, eggs, fish, peanuts, soybeans, milk, nuts, celery, mustard, sesame, sulphur dioxide/sulphites, lupin and molluscs.

Low fat claims

Low fat products often mean that the fat has been removed from the product. The replacement of fat is often sugar, which can be a problem especially when selecting low carb options. This is something you should look out for when following the Low Carb Program. A common example of this is low fat yoghurts vs. the full fat version.

Nutritional labelling (on the back of pack)

By European Food Law the nutritional information must be displayed on the back of the packaging per 100g/ml as a minimum. Often, per portion is also displayed. On the Low Carb Program, the most important part to look out for on the nutrition is carbohydrates per 100g and per portion. From this information you can then decide whether the product is suitable.

Traffic lights (front of the pack)

The traffic lights system is often displayed on the front of the packaging. However, this can be very inconsistent, with different retailers using different colours and styles making it hard to understand. Also, traffic lights can be deceptive in some cases. For example, nuts are red for fat which indicates they are high in fat, but they are low in carbs (almonds are the best choice in this instance), a good source of protein and provide several vitamins and minerals such as vitamin E.

Portion size/ serving size

A lot of foods have a recommended portion size/serving size per pack, but they can often be unrealistic. Who really only eats 30g of popcorn in a sharing size bag which is 90g? Even though the packet states three servings per pack, how many people would look out for this type of information?

The more familiar you become with reading food labels the easier this will become. Challenge yourself to read at least one food label every time you go shopping. In no time you will be a savvy food label champion!


Department of Health (2017) Technical guidance on nutrition labelling [Online]

Discover more nutrition support when you join the Low Carb Program.