Knowing what you’re putting into your body is always important for athletes, but just how easy is it to really know what’s in the food and drink that we consume? Most foods and drinks have labels on the packaging detailing the quantities of macronutrients, the various ingredients and the possible allergens. This can sometimes get a bit confusing, especially if you’re trying to follow a set amount for fats, carbs, protein as well as monitoring other things like salt and fibre. 

If you have a known allergy, this is the first thing to look for. Most companies are diligent in naming allergens that may be contained within the product – as well as what might have found its way in there inadvertently. A bag of crisps that is made or packaged in the same factory as salted peanuts may have a warning stating that it may contain peanuts. These key allergens will most often be highlighted in bold on the ingredients section of the labelling. As anyone with severe allergies reading this will know, it’s vital to be aware of these as consuming them can have serious, possibly life-threatening consequences. If you’re not sure, don’t risk it! 

It’s also important to be aware of the fact that the data on these nutritional labels is not always 100% accurate. They are generally based on the results of an ‘average’ sample of the item that has been laboratory tested to ascertain the quantities. These amounts do not always stay entirely consistent from product to product. One pack of porridge oats may vary slightly from another. It’s the same reason why a lot of products have warnings that they may contain allergens. Although they don’t expressly contain them, there is the chance of contamination. However, the differences in calories or grams of fat are generally quite small so that’s not much of a worry for the majority of people.

The next difficult part is extrapolating the data on the label and interpreting it correctly. Sometimes on a bottle of soda there will be a label on the front that, let’s say, states that there are 50kcal and 11grams of sugar. Some people may quickly assume that’s for the whole bottle. Normally, there is small print at the top or bottom of the label that usually will say ‘per serving’ or ‘per 100g/ml’. Let’s say that the entire bottle is 500ml. Suddenly, what you thought was 50kcal and 11grams of sugar is now 250kcal and 55grams! It’s not always the easiest of jobs to find the weights that the labelling is quoting from or the weight of the entire product. These vital pieces of information can be either difficult to read or hidden under folds in the packaging!

Hopefully, this will be helpful to anyone who wants to be more aware of exactly what quantities of sugar, salt, saturated fats etc are going into their bodies. I think it’s important not to over-analyse and become obsessed but, equally, knowledge is power.

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