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How to read labels?

The label is a very important element of a packaged product, and it serves as the “identity card” of the product. Unfortunately, it is often ignored at the time of purchase. Aside from providing nutritional information (list of ingredients and the nutrition declaration), the label also shows details about its preparation and conservation, expiry date, quantity, and the company’s responsibility.

With the enforcing of EU Regulation No. 1169/2001, the rules of food labeling has undergone several changes, especially with regards to the obligatory indication of the presence of allergenic substances in food.



Let us begin by checking the number and order of ingredients in the list, and that is one of the fundamental elements of the label. In this list, the ingredients are showed in descending order of weight, as well as the formula at the time of production. The first ingredient listed is found in larger amounts in the product. If the list is more extensive, this usually means that it contains less natural and more processed ingredients.

Next, we need to check the quality of the ingredients. There are several ingredients that are added to the product to improve flavor, texture, color, and preservation. These ingredients show the name of the additives, which may be natural or synthetic. Normally, these are written on the label with its scientific name or the designation “E”, followed by a number.



This is the part of the label that we should read more carefully because it provides all the information you need for building a proper diet that will help you meet your fitness goals.

  • Energy value (expressed in kilocalories – Kcal and Kilojoules)
  • Macro-nutrients (proteins, lipids, and carbohydrates)
  • Micro-nutrients (vitamins and minerals)
  • Fibers

All these amounts are calculated taking into account 100g or 100ml of the product, and not necessarily by portions determined by the manufacturer. Therefore, this table serves as a guide to the selection of the product. For more accurate information however, it is important to recalculate the values according to the amounts actually ingested – especially when you will be integrating the product to your diet and fitness program.

03_100-whey-1kg_info_lrg 03_whey-sachet_info_lrg


Energy value is calculated taking into account the content of each nutrient. For example, 1 gram of protein or carbohydrates provides 4 Kcal, while 1 gram of lipids provides 9 Kcal.

The content of lipids (fats) includes the amount of phospholipids, fatty acids, monosaccharides (glucose), and polyaccharides (starch). The separate presentation of these values is important, for example for diabetics because they have to bring down their sugar consumption to better control blood glucose levels.

In general, all of us should be concerned about the amount of sugar we consume, and try to avoid eating foods that are high in ingredients whose name end in “ose”, such as glucose, maltose, and fructose.

The content of vitamins and minerals is shown only when it has a value equal to or greater than that shown in Annex XIII to EU Regulation No. 1116/2011. One of the most important nutritional information indicated in statement is the salt content (calculated as the amount of sodium in food x 2.5), because eating too much salt can have implications in the regulation of blood pressure.

The fiber content is usually separated from the amount of carbohydrates, which includes carbohydrates that are not digested in the small intestine. If you are looking to consume foods that are rich in fiber, it is necessary for you to look at these numbers. Fibers help reduce the absorption of glucose and cholesterol in the small intestine by promoting the emptying of the intestines, and stimulating the growth and activity of intestinal bacteria.

As a recap, try to buy food that features a:

  • Minor ingredients list (there are rolls for sale that are made using more than 20 ingredients)
  • Lower sugar and fat content
  • Higher fiber content


The information included in this article concerns the authors opinion only.

About Ana Sofia Guerra

Ana Sofia Guerra
Ana Guerra has a degree in Nutrition, Food Engineering and Nutritional Sciences at the Higher Institute of Health Sciences Egas Moniz. Currently Ana is working as clinical nutrition. She also writes for the press and is a nutrition consultant.

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