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.


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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