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How to read a food label

Many people go to the supermarket, look at a label on the package but don’t really know how to read a nutrition facts label. Others are advised to use the food label because they are intolerant or allergic to some nutrients and need to identify the foods they can eat. And then there’s another group – athletes often included – who want to cut back on hidden calories and fats and want to make sure what they buy is healthy and without additives.


To be able to do this, you need to know how to read the information on the package. The first step is to look at the serving size of your product. When you want to know how many calories you’re eating with the food you’ve prepared, compare it to your portion size because it helps you to understand how many calories you eat. If your portion is double the serving size, then you need to multiply the calories, fats etc. by two.


If you are in the shop and look at the label, watch out for calories, fats (transfers, saturated fats), cholesterol and sodium because those are the nutrients you should limit in your diet. Best if it’s 5% or less of daily value (DV). On the other hand look for fibre, vitamins and minerals and make sure your product is packed with those. Aim at 20 % of DV of fibre in your product. Anything below that is not really a fibre rich food…


And then there is the long list of ingredients. This list helps you to find out what is in the product: food additives, fats, stabilizers and other substances. A rule of thumb for the ingredients list: the shorter the list the better!

Because many athletes want to buy only high quality products, I’ve been doing grocery tours with them where we look at products, compare food labels and identify products that are good for them. I’ve been shopping with Olympic champions and youth athletes. It helps all athletes of all levels. This is not a matter of success, this is important for all of us. It’s been fun and I have already the next tours planned.


So if you take a closer look at the label shown above, you’ll see that not all that is in this chocolate bar is actually what you are looking for! There’s too much saturated fat in one bar. Given the type of bar (chocolate, caramel & pretzel) it’s also easy to understand where all the fat comes from. It would be better to choose a bar without the chocolate-caramel-pretzel-“extra”. Look for one that has (real!) fruits, oats or other grains, tiny bit of salt.

But there’s more than the amount of fat: when you read the ingredients, you’ll read many things that shouldn’t be in your favorite bar, from oils to colors. I’m sure there’re better bars in your grocery store! Just take a look at the label.