Healthy living


The selection of products available at supermarkets is huge. Breakfast cereals alone include innumerable options: flakes, pops, and mueslis. How are you supposed to find a healthy option that is satisfying but not fattening?

Food labels contain a lot of information, which often raises unrealistic expectations. Not everything that says 'healthy' on the label is actually good for your health.  Some information must be included on the packaging by law. It also contains information that is provided voluntarily, as well as a multitude of quality seals and symbols. This makes it difficult to keep up.

Packaged foods, including breakfast cereals, must always be named on the label. The name must identify what kind of product it actually is. Example: fruit juice (‘Saft’) or fruit drink (‘Nektar’). Unlike juice (Saft), fruit drink (Nektar) contains added water and sugar. This means you should preferably go for juice (Saft) rather than fruit drink (Nektar). Having a look at the ingredients can help. You often find this list at the back or on the side of the packaging. It says what the food contains. A breakfast muesli, for example, may contain rolled oats, sultanas, hazelnuts, almonds, chocolate, dried fruit, and sugar. 

One important rule of thumb is that the closer to the top an ingredient is listed, the greater is its proportion of the total product. If, for example, sugar is listed first, it means that the product contains a lot of it. The list of ingredients must also include the food additives and flavourings used. 

Substances or types of produce that can cause allergies or intolerances, e.g. nuts or soy, are also listed. They must also be emphasised visually, e.g. by being printed in bold or underlined letters. Most packaged foods must also include a table of nutritional values on the packaging. This table lists the content of the following nutrients (per 100 grams or per 100 millilitres):

• Energy

• Fat

• Saturated fat

• Carbohydrates

• Sugar

• Protein

• Salt

Providing this information is compulsory. It may be supplemented voluntarily by certain additional information, such as dietary fibre or vitamin content. Often, labelling is manipulated to make the product appear healthier. In the list of ingredients, sugar is often hidden in other terms. These may include saccharose, glucose, fructose, maltose, dextrose, lactose, maltodextrin, invert sugar syrup, glucose syrup, and fructose syrup. This means: beware of terms ending in '-ose' and 'syrup'! All these tables give you a lot of numbers that are not always easy to make sense of. You may be able to read how much fat and sugar is contained in the product, e.g. the muesli mix. But you don't know if this is a lot or a little, or whether it will make you feel satisfied or make you fat! 

Consumers would like to see simplified labelling that indicates the quality of a food product at first glance. This would make it easier to find your way through and make healthy choices. In Germany, companies have been able to use the 'Nutri-Score' nutrition label since 2020, but only on a voluntary basis. Consumer advocacy groups are therefore demanding uniform and compulsory labelling across Europe. The Nutri-Score label works like a traffic light: it consists of five letters (A to E) and the three traffic light colours. A green letter 'A' indicates the highest, and a red letter 'E' indicates the lowest level of nutritional quality. Nutri-Score can, for example, help you select the healthiest among all the different breakfast mueslis.

Given this large amount of information and labelling, is not exactly easy to stay on top of it all. We therefore recommend: if you want to eat a healthy diet, keep it varied and select fresh foods where possible. Some processed foods contain a lot of sugar, salt, or fat. Our top tip: Don't buy a packaged breakfast muesli, but buy the individual ingredients and mix your own! Then you know exactly what it contains. Together with fresh fruit and milk or yoghurt, you'll have a healthy version on your breakfast table.

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