Reading the Traffic: A Guide to Nutritional Labelling

We have started to think about what we put into our bodies more than ever before. Sometimes it seems as if the deeper you go down that rabbit hole of nutrition, the darker and more confusing it all gets. And it’s not so surprising, given that companies don’t want to splash their nutritional flaws across their packaging.


It’s important to find a way to cut through all of the noise and nonsense, and we believe the best way to do that is the 'traffic light system'. It is now compulsory for food products in the UK to have the traffic light front of pack labelling. Unfortunately, MEP’s rejected the traffic labels, so it is not a legal requirement to have the labels in green, orange and red in Ireland right now. This makes it a little more difficult to find the true nutritional value of the food we eat, but there are ways around that...


The Irish Heart Foundation have made a shopping card that can be carried around while you shop. The idea is fairly simple, green means low amounts of sugars, fats, saturates or salt, orange means a medium amount and red is a high amount. The numbers on the Food Shopping Card are based on 100g of the food.



How to Use the Food Shopping Card:

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  1. Check the nutrition information per 100g (for example; Our FeedThePulse Tomato & Herb SuperSauce contains 0.1g of saturates per 100g.)

  2. Compare this figure to the information for saturates on your Food Shopping Card.

  3. Our sauce is well under the 1.5g maximum for low levels of saturates and so is coded green.


It is important to note that not all labels are based on the same weight, and is definitely something to watch out for. An example of this is that many cereals base their front of pack labelling on a 30g serving, which means the amounts of sugar, fat, saturates and salt seems much smaller than it actually is.


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Sometimes you will have to look at the nutritional label at the back of the food package to find the 100g values. The Shopping Card makes eating healthily much easier, and gives you the opportunity to make an informed decision about the food you’re eating.


The whole thing is a bit of a maze, but now lots of charities have published articles about how to read food labelling, including the Irish Cancer Society, Diabetes Ireland, and of course Croi and The Irish Heart Foundation.


You have to think of the traffic light food guides like you would with real traffic lights. Would you break a red light? No, because it’s very dangerous, and you would be putting yourself in harm’s way. Well, the same goes for high sugar, salt, fats and saturates; although what we eat doesn’t seem too dangerous, over time it can really damage your health.


And then, what if we couldn’t see the red lights as we drove through them? It would be crazy. Right?


We should all be able to choose our food with full knowledge of how healthy they really are. The Food Shopping Card is available for free from The Irish Heart Foundation Website.