Principle Trainer - Tim Quickenden BSc. (Hons) Dip FTST

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Tip of the Month

Making Sense of Food Labels

There is a widely publicised link between good nutrition and health/wellness.  “You are what you eat” is a phrase often used and is very true. As Personal Fitness trainers, it is vital that we not only focus on our client’s exercise and daily energy expenditure but also embrace their food intake. 

Modern society has been responsible for a number of changes to our diets and eating habits:

  • Food has been commercialised to the point now that supermarkets offer a huge array of processed foods that not only offer convenience but also have often been stripped of their goodness.  Food should be viewed as fuel, just like the petrol or diesel we put in our cars. Processed foods don’t acknowledge the human body’s need for a balance in the correct nutrients.
  • In recent times, low fat diet plans and healthy eating articles in the popular press have come to the fore.  Jargon such as “97% Fat Free” is plastered all over many ranges of foods in the supermarket.  Much of this is marketing hype and this fact-sheet aims to look through the jargon to show you the correct choices to make when doing your food shop.

Before we look directly at food labelling itself, it is important to make the following points (the points made in bold are especially important):

  • We all need differing total numbers of calories on a daily basis.  A 90kg elite male athlete might need 4000kcals daily to give him the fuel he needs whilst a relatively sedentary office worker who takes relatively little exercise might only need 1750kcals daily.  To maintain weight and promote health, it is important that we obtain the calories from the correct food groups.

  • Carbohydrate (CHO) should be directly associated with “fuel” for activity.  Loosely there are two types of CHO, simple and complex.  Simple CHO is basically sugar of the type found in cakes and sweets.  This causes a rapid increase in blood sugar upon consumption.  Complex CHO is found in potatoes, pasta, rice and bread, this CHO is absorbed slowly by the body and provides a steady “trickle” of energy. This is much better for maintaining consistent energy levels.  Each gram of CHO consumed contains 4kcals.
  • Protein is vital for maintaining all lean tissues (e.g. muscle, vital organs) within the body.  A diet deficient in protein leads to many degenerative disorders and diseases.  The main source of protein is meat and animal products.  Choose lean meats such as chicken and fish, as they are low in saturated fat.  Conversely, red meat should be consumed sparingly, as although it does provide valuable iron, it also is high in saturated fat. Vegetarians gain protein from pulses and beans, nuts and cereals.  Each gram of protein consumed contains 4 kcals and we need approx. 1g of protein for every 1kg of lean tissue.  E.g A lean 70kg male needs 70 g of protein daily.
  • Fat should not necessarily be viewed as the enemy.  Although it is vital to minimise the intake of saturated fats (meat/dairy products), some fat is vital in the diet as it plays an important role in maintaining the nervous system, brain function and maintains metabolism.  Fats also act as a carrier for vitamins A,D,E and K; a diet deficient in fat will also lead to vitamin deficiency and associated illnesses.  Foods containing polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats should be chosen, these include nut, certain oils and oily fish.  Each gram of fat consumed contains 9kcals.
  • Fibre is the final constituent of food to discuss.  It is essentially insoluble CHO that the human body cannot digest.  Fibre is not only important for the well documented reason of aiding digestion,  it also plays a crucial role in slowing the absorption of normal CHO (valuable for maintaining energy levels), preventing against heart disease and various cancers and also aiding weight loss. Good sources are fresh and dried fruit, fresh & some tinned vegetables, wholemeal products (pasta, brown rice, bread), muesli and all beans and pulses.  A diet that relies largely on processed “ready meals” will often be deficient in fibre. Ensure you get 18-20g of fibre per day, check food labels again.


The Food Label

  • Nutrition labelling is voluntary – it is compulsory when a nutrition claim eg low fat, high fibre is made and on food for nutritional uses
  • Vitamins and minerals can only be declared when they are present in significant amounts and must be declared when a claim is made
  • Food supplements are exempt from the rules on nutritional labelling
  • A picture of the food eg strawberries cannot be used unless the flavour comes mainly from strawberries
  • ‘Wholesome’, ‘Hearty’, ‘full of goodness’ are relatively meaningless
  • Flavour – the food does not have to contain any of that ingredient.
  • Even if the product claims to be ‘low fat’, it may still contain lots of sugar and salt.  Read on to find how it may also be high fat.
  • Ingredients are listed in descending order of weight
  • e -  average quantity of each individual can or pack is accurate, the weight of each can  or pack may vary

(Taken from – ENERGISE FOR EXERCISE FOR YOU – The Active Person’s HANDBOOK; Penny Hunking SRD, 1996)

Calculate the g of fat by:

  1. Look at the g fat/100g product
  2. Times the g fat by 10 – ie move the decimal place one space eg 13.5g becomes 135kcals
  3. Compare this figure to the total number of kcals per 100g product
  4. Decide whether the product is low/medium/high in fat

 Alternatively, calculate the fat more accurately this way:

  1. Multiply the number of g fat in 100g by 9
  2. Divide by total kcals in 100g
  3. Multiply by 100


Chocolate peppermint bar

Nutritional Information – each 100g provides:
Energy                          2184kj/522 kcal
Protein                          7.7g
Carbohydrate                72.8g
Fat                               28.7g

  1. Multiply 28.7 by 9 (every g fat 9 kcals) = 258.3
  2. Divide 258.3 by 522 (number of kcals contained in every 100g) and multiply by 100 to get the percent fat
    258.3/522 x 100 = 49.48%
  3. You now know that 49.48% of calories in this particular chocolate peppermint bar come from fat

This is the key point of this article, products that claim to be for example “97% Fat Free” may base these claims on weight rather than calories.  The thing to grasp is that every g of fat contains 9 calories.  Go through the simple calculation above and you can workout the true percentage of fat in a product, the results will be eye opening and can cause anger towards those who market and promote foods as healthy when they actually aren’t. 

Key Points & Advice

  • Avoid eating processed foods regularly.  They are stripped of natural nutrients.  In fact, mass farming of fresh fruit & vegetables has lead to a progressive reduction in the levels of vitamins and minerals in fresh produce.
  • Look past the claims, read the food label. Read the ingredient list.  If fat is in the top three or listed several times by various names, then the product is likely to be high fat.
  • Learn to use the calculation for determining the percentage of calories in a product derived from fat.  This is vital for ‘seeing through the jargon’.
  • Remember, choosing good products that have a relatively low percentage of calories from fat mean that more of the calories must be derived from valuable ‘energy giving’ carbohydrate. Preferably ‘complex’ carbohydrate.
  • When looking at the carbohydrate on food labels, differentiate between the amount of carbohydrate derived from sugar and the total amount, ideally, the amount derived from sugar should be low.
  • Protein intake should be roughly 1.0g per kg of lean body weight.  Remember that the weight of the piece of meat does not equal the amount of grams of protein it provides.  Look at a tin of tuna for further information.

Hopefully this factsheet has shed some light on food labelling.  Put the advice (especially the technique for deriving the percentage of calories from fat) into practice, we especially advise doing this with the popular supermarket- advertised “low fat” or “good for you” ranges. 


Tip of the Month

There is a widely publicised link between good nutrition and health/wellness.  “You are what you eat” is a phrase often used and is very true. As Personal Fitness trainers, it is vital that we not only focus on our client’s exercise and daily energy expenditure but also embrace their food intake. Read more

Personal training with a highly qualified experienced fitness trainer is available in South UK including the Meon Valley, Fareham, Titchfield, Bishops Waltham, Swanmore, Droxford, Denmead, Waterlooville, Lee on Solent, Chandlers Ford, Eastleigh, Gosport, Southampton, Portsmouth as well as many other local Hampshire areas on request.