UK Introduces Traffic Light Food Labeling

The United Kingdom has planned to re-create their food labels so they are easier to read and interpret by the people who buy them, a step that the United States has yet to take.

The UK plans on replacing 60 percent of food labels in the next 18 months.

The changes in the labels include a color system based on traffic lights:

  • Red indicates high levels of nutrients
  • Yellow indicates medium levels of nutrients
  • Green indicates low levels of nutrients


All major supermarkets will use these new labels. These stores include leading UK chains such as Sainsbury’s, Asda, Morrisons, the Co-operative, Waitrose and Tesco according to an article that appeared on the Independent Online.

Brands including Mars UK, Nestle UK, PepsiCo UK, Premier Foods and McCain Foods will adopt the labeling system.

“I don’t much look at labels when I food shop in bulk, but when I am buying one item I do like to know what I am putting in my body,” said Henry Dougly, a London resident.

By highlighting excess amounts of sugar, the UK is helping their consumers make informed choices about what they are consuming.

The documentary Fed Up presents scientific evidence that when you ingest sugar, your brain reacts in the same way as when you ingest cocaine.


(Photo from Fed Up documentary)

“Even when a label says fat-free, the sugar that remains gets turned back into fat,” said Conally McDougal, a self-proclaimed health conscious vegetarian in her late 20s. McDougal grew up in the United Kingdom, however, her mother was originally from the United States.  She never lived in the US but visited there on many occasions and was immersed in the food culture.

The government departments that regulate food in the UK are known as the FDF (Food and Drink Federation) and the GDA (Guideline Daily Amounts). The FDF is the equivalent to FDA in the US and the GDA is comparable to the percentage daily value on US food labels.

UK law requires all food labels to show the percentage of daily recommended intake of sugar.

Coca-Cola label with UK guidelines

(Photo Credit: Stephanie Garcia)

Nutritional information labels in the UK have broken down which carbohydrates come from white sugar.

“Just making someone stop and think before they buy or cook can really help impact their dietary choices,” Nigel Denby, a registered dietitian and author writing for the FDF.

In America, the FDA is not required to show the daily recommended percentage of sugar on their food labels.

“I think the new labeling is a brilliant idea,” said Tom Doyle, a student at Oxford University. “When I’m running between classes, it’s easier for me to see if it’s healthy or not.”

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