NHS Choices: How to read a nutrition label

Nutrition labels can help you choose between products and keep a check on the amount of foods you’re eating that are high in fat, salt and added sugars. Here is what to look for, and what some of the terms mean:

There are two types of carbohydrates that the body turns into energy: simple and complex.

Simple carbohydrates are often listed on nutrition labels as “carbohydrates (of which sugars)”. This includes added sugars and the natural sugars found in fruit and milk.

Complex carbohydrates are also called starchy foods. Starchy foods include potatoes, bread, rice, pasta and other starchy carbohydrates. We should get most of our energy from complex carbohydrates rather than those containing sugar. Try to choose higher-fibre, wholegrain varieties of starchy foods whenever you can by choosing wholewheat pasta, brown rice, or simply leaving the skins on potatoes.

Sometimes you will only see a total figure for carbohydrates on nutrition labels. This includes the carbohydrates from complex carbohydrates and from simple carbohydrates.


Sugars occur naturally in foods such as fruit and milk, however we do not need to cut down on these types of sugars. Sugars are also added to a wide range of foods such as sweets, cakes, biscuits and chocolates, and it is these types of sugary foods that we should cut down on, as regularly consuming foods and drinks high in sugar increases your risk of obesity and tooth decay. Nutrition labels often tell you how much sugar a food contains. This includes added sugars (also called “free sugars”) and the natural sugars found in fruit and milk. You can compare labels and choose foods that are lower in sugar.

No added sugar
This usually means that the food has not had sugar added to it as an ingredient. Just because a food contains “no added sugar”, it does not necessarily mean it has a low sugar content. The food may contain ingredients that have a naturally high sugar content (such as fruit), or have added milk, which contains lactose, the sugar that occurs naturally in milk.

This usually means that no sugar or sweetener has been added to the food to make it taste sweet. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the food will not contain naturally occurring sugars, such as those found in fruit or milk.

News items and features like this appear in the Desang Diabetes Magazine, our free-to-receive digital journal. We cover diabetes news, diabetes management equipment (diabetes ‘kit’ such as insulin pumps and continuous glucose monitoring equipment) and news about food suitable for a diabetic diet including a regular Making Carbs Count column. Go to the top of this page to sign up – we just need your email address. www.desang-magazine.co.uk

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