The science of nutrition and healthy eating
The science of nutrition and healthy eating

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The science of nutrition and healthy eating

Week 4: What do food labels tell us?


Welcome to Week 4 of the course.

This week, you will be learning about the information given on food labels.

By the end of this week’s study you should be able to understand:

  • what the regulations are for food labelling
  • how food is analysed and the food tables
  • the traffic-light system for food labelling
  • the claims made on packaging.

In the following video, Audrey Brown from The Open University finds out whether some members of staff at the University look at food labels and what they look for on them.

Download this video clip.Video player: ou_futurelearn_nutrition_vid_1044.mp4
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Today, we’re going to be looking at food labels. There is a legal requirement for labels to be put on manufactured food, so that people know what they’re eating. But how much do people actually look at the labels?
I do sometimes, depending on what it is, or depending on the day, if I’m thinking-- if I’ve had too much of one type of thing, I might try and look at the calories and go, OK, actually, there’s too much fat in this or too much salt in it. It’s particularly salt and sugar that I look at.
I’m quite careful about cereals, because of the sugar content in them. I tend to look at yoghurts quite carefully. Anything that’s got sugar in them, I do look at.
When I’m buying it, you know, in the supermarket, yeah, I’ll look at the labels, look at the nutritional value and stuff, yeah.
I tend not to buy things which I don’t know much about. Like, I buy fruit, veg, cheese, and ham and-- you know, raw stuff, not necessarily processed stuffed.
I have to look at labels, because I am intolerant to wheat and gluten. So I’m always checking to make sure that it’s not going to make me ill.
I only look at the calories in it, too, but I don’t really look at salt or artificial sweeteners or anything.
Yeah, I always look at the label, just because I’m vegetarian. So I always make sure that it’s suitable for vegetarians. And I usually look at the nutritional values, to make sure it’s not too much sugar, not too much fat. And also low-calorie items I usually go for, as well.
And sugar.
Yeah. Yeah, but normal fats, don’t think they’re a problem. But things like sugar and salt, yeah, I look at.
I can’t say that I pay much attention to the nutritional information. I assume, if I’m eating anything outside of the house, it’s probably not that good for me, because I don’t really know what goes into it. So that’s the way I tend to go ahead, when I eat.
You can learn a lot about food by looking at the label. The label should tell you how much energy the food will provide and how much fat, protein, and carbohydrate there are in 100 grammes, and also in one portion. Also included is the amount of salt, because that can be linked to high blood pressure, and the amount of fibre, which helps the food move along the digestive system. Then there’s information about the ingredients in the food, for people who may need to avoid specific items like eggs, milk, nuts, etc, because of intolerance or allergy. So there is a lot that you can learn from a food label.
End transcript
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Over the last three weeks we’ve looked at the components of food and what happens to food after you eat it. You have also looked at the importance of hydration for your body and mind. This week, we will look at the parts of a food label – ingredients, nutritional information and reference intake or guideline daily amounts – and try to make sense of the numbers.

Food labels were mentioned in Week 1 and we asked you to start collecting some. Since then, you have learned some more about food and the importance of its components.

  • Do you look differently at food labels now?
  • How much of the information on it do you understand?

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