Reference intakes explained - NHS

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Reference intakes explained - Eat well

You'll see reference intakes referred to on food labels. They show you the maximum amount of calories and nutrients you should eat on average in a day.

Daily reference intakes for adults are:

The reference intake for total sugars includes sugars from milk, fruit and vegetables, as well as added sugar.

See How much sugar is good for me? to learn more about added sugar and the type of sugars most of us should cut down on.

Reference intakes are not meant to be targets. They just give you a rough idea of how much energy you should be eating each day, and how much fat, sugar, salt and so on.

Unless the label says otherwise, reference intakes are based on an average-sized woman doing an average amount of physical activity.

This is to reduce the risk of people with lower energy requirements eating too much, and to make sure information on labels is clear and consistent.

How can I tell if a food is high in fat, saturated fat, sugars or salt?

Looking at the amount of each nutrient in 100g or a portion of a food can give you an idea of how much it contributes to your daily intakes. This information is sometimes also written on the label as a percentage of the reference intake, or % RI.

There are guidelines to tell you if a food is high in fat, saturated fat ("saturates"), sugars or salt, or not:

Fat

High in fat: more than 17.5g of fat per 100g
Low in fat: 3g of fat or less per 100g

Saturated fat (saturates)

High in saturates: more than 5g of saturates per 100g
Low in saturates: 1.5g of saturates or less per 100g

Sugars

High in sugars: more than 22.5g of total sugars per 100g
Low in sugars: 5g of total sugars or less per 100g

Salt

High in salt: more than 1.5g of salt per 100g
Low in salt: 0.3g of salt or less per 100g 

So, for example, if you're trying to cut down on sugar, you should eat fewer foods that have more than 22.5g of sugars per 100g.

If you want to eat less saturated fats, it's best to choose fewer foods that have more than 5g of saturates per 100g.

The "traffic-light" style colour coding on the front of food packs helps you see at a glance whether a food is high (red), medium (amber) or low (green) in fat, saturated fat, sugars or salt.

Read more about red, amber and green colour coding.

Page last reviewed: 8 June 2020
Next review due: 8 June 2023