How to read food labels

IMAGINE the scene. It’s after lunch and I’m at my desk, busy with the day job, when I get that familiar hunger craving.

I head down to the university dining room, and stand in front of the counter surveying my options. There’s a Twix, a Twirl, a Snickers, and even a Mars Bar, but I resist. Eating chocolate is only something I tend to do in an evening, never during the day. It’s just a little rule I’ve set myself. By day, I always try to go for healthier options. By night, I’m a chocolate fiend (some of the time).

Anyway, back to the scene, I’m in front of the counter. Chocolate is a no. That limits my options. I can have an apple, a pear or a flapjack. I don’t want fruit so I reach for the flapjack. There’s a choice of plain flapjack, chocolate chip flapjack or fruit flapjack. I pick up the fruit one. Then I do something that I rarely do. I turn the flapjack over and read the food label.

And then I stand there looking at the calories and grams of salt and fat and saturated fat and sugar, feeling quite dizzy and a little sick. You see, I’d been on a food and nutrition workshop. I’d been learning about food labels and how to make sure you know what you’re eating.

I know that flapjacks are made with sugar and fat and all things nice. But I didn’t know how much of all the nice things was too much. I’d never really thought about studying food labels in any kind of detail. I certainly didn’t use them to see how much of my recommended daily allowances I was eating, or overeating as the case may be. I’d never thought twice about a flapjack for my mid-afternoon snack.

Here’s what I found out is recommended per day:

  • 6g – Salt
  • 20g – Saturated fat (chocolate, cheese, white fat on meat)
  • 70g – Fat
  • 90g – Sugar – including 30g of free sugars (added sugars)

Too much of the above can cause health problems. I sat in the workshop wondering how much I consumed in a day. Was I over the recommended guidelines? What impact would that have on my health and my fitness? I decided that I need to think more carefully about the food that I’m eating.

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So back to the scene. I’m standing in the dining room, flapjack in hand, studying the label. There are far too many sugars and fats. For a second I think about putting it back and picking up a chocolate bar instead, just to compare with, but then I remember my no-chocolate–in-daylight rule and put it back. I pick up an apple instead. I pay for it and head back to my desk, pleased that I’d made a healthy choice.

In the writing of this blog post a flapjack has been consumed. I am not perfect, but at least now I am aware and more likely to check and compare food labels.

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