Nutrition in the News: HFSS and Why We Should Take a Closer Look at Food Labels

HFSS is all over the news at the minute, but what does it actually mean, and how does it change the way we should read food labels? Here's our nutrition team with some pointers.

Amid all the media discussion on what food choices are best for you, it’s easy to feel a bit lost trying to decode all the labels on the foods we buy. Unsure whether to focus on fat, salt, or sugar? We get it can be puzzling, especially with the topic of HFSS (high in fat, salt or sugar) all over the news at the moment.

In this article, we will tackle the ways to read food labels for smarter food choices – breaking down what HFSS foods are and how the rules are coming into action.

To kick things off, let’s start with some handy tips for unraveling food labels:

Tip 1: Know your daily maximums for fat, sugar and salt intake

There seems to be one thing we can agree on, to maintain a healthy diet, it's essential to regulate sugar, saturated fat, and salt intake. So what are the recommended daily amounts?

Sugar: The reference intake for total sugars is less than 90g per day. Free sugars should make up less than 5% of total dietary energy intake.

Saturated fat: No more than 20g of saturated fat should be consumed by an average adult per day.

Salt: The recommended daily intake of salt is less than 6g for adults, according to health guidelines.

Tip 2: Understand the front-of-pack labelling

Although optional in the UK, the traffic light labelling catches your eye and is useful to quickly assess the nutritional value of a product. The labels display calorie content and use a colour-coded system to indicate whether the product is low (green), medium (amber) or high (red) in terms of fat, saturated fat, salt and sugar.

What do the colours mean?

Green: Low in this nutrient, the more greens, the better.

Amber: Neither high nor low in this nutrient, you can eat these more regularly.

Red: High in this nutrient, you should try to eat less often.

When choosing between products, opt for the healthier option with more greens and ambers and fewer reds.

Tip 3: Interpret portion sizes

When you’re navigating food labels, understanding portion sizes is key to accurate nutritional intake. Keep in mind that the recommended portion size will be suggested by the manufacturer and can vary between brands. So always take a moment to check how many servings the information refers to.

Take cereal for example. While one brand might consider a serving as 30g, another might opt for 45g. When making your calculations, be sure to check the number of servings the information relates to.

What is a HFSS food?

Now that we've covered some ways to decipher food labels and make informed choices, let's delve into the concept of HFSS and understand what it means for our dietary decisions.

HFSS stands for ‘High in Fat, Sugar & Salt’. This classification helps to identify foods and drinks with elevated levels of these less nutritious elements. The regulation aims to restrict the promotion of such items, in line with the government's commitment to addressing obesity in the UK.

How is a HFSS product determined?

Simply put, it’s based on a points system.

A values: Examines nutrients such as energy, saturated fat, sugar and sodium and gives points.

C Points: It also considers nutrients such as fruit, vegetables, fibre and protein for additional points.

Subtracting ‘C’ points from ‘A’ points gives the overall score. A food is classified as 'less healthy' if it scores 4 points or more. A drink is classified as 'less healthy' when it scores 1 point or more.

How and when will this come into action?

It wasn’t that long ago when you may have found yourself waiting in the Tesco checkout line, surrounded by tempting chocolate bars. However, things changed last year (2022) as HFSS classified products faced new restrictions on location, no longer being displayed at checkouts, aisle ends or store entrances.

You may have also caught wind of the news about advertising restrictions on HFSS products being set before 9 pm. While there was a recent delay, its anticipated this law will take effect from October 2025.


Understanding food labels is a crucial step toward making informed and healthier dietary choices. Following tips such as knowing nutrient daily maximums, interpreting front-of-pack labelling and paying attention to portion sizes will help when navigating the complexities of nutrition and the contradictions within the media.

The high fat, sugar and salt (HFSS) indicators shed light on identifying less nutritious elements in food and averages. The regulations we see in the news aim to steer the general public towards adopting a more healthful diet.

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