• Anjali Gupta

Get the Facts on Food Labels

The more you read them; the better will be your choice!

You may have noticed food labels on almost all prepackaged foods in the grocery store. But some foods that are prepared or processed at a grocery store may or may not have a food label on them; for example some bakery items, salads, fruit trays etc.

It can be very confusing to figure out which food is a better choice for you when the grocery shelves are loaded with a large variety to choose from. Read on to get the knowledge you need to find the foods that are best for you.

Food labels contain a wealth of information and can help you select the best foods from the ones available in your grocery store. You can use food labels to.

  • compare two or more similar foods

  • see if the food you are planning to buy has a little or a lot of a particular nutrient

  • find foods for special diets e.g. diabetes or blood pressure

A Closer Look at Food Labels

The nutrition information on a Food labels have the following four parts:

1. Nutrition Facts Table

Nutrition Facts Table gives you information about calories and 13 core nutrients for a food. It also provides you the % Daily Value (%DV) of the nutrients. The information on the facts table is based on a specific amount of food; it is always listed on the top of the Facts Table in common household measures (e.g. 3/4cup, 100g, 250ml).

Keep in mind that the listed amount is not necessarily a suggested amount of food to eat.

Bright Idea!

Always compare the amount on the package to the amount you actually eat. Often we eat more than the serving size on the label. Calculate the nutrients you will get based on the amount you will eat.

% Daily Value (%DV) makes it easier to evaluate and compare the nutrients in foods. It places nutrients on a scale from 0% to 100%. It tells you if there is a little or a lotof a nutrient in the specific amount of food.

As a general rule: 5% DV or less is a LITTLE

15% DV or more is a LOT

To use the %Daily Value follow the three steps listed below:

  • Look at the specific amount of food and compare it to the amount you will eat.

  • Read the %DV of the food for the nutrients you are interested in.

  • Choose higher %DV for the nutrients you want to increase and less %DV for the ones to want less of.

2. Ingredient List

The Ingredient List tells you vital information about the ingredients that are used to make the food you are looking at. Use the following tips when looking at the ingredient list:

  • All of the ingredients are listed by weight, from most to least. The ingredient that is in the largest amount is listed first and so on.

  • It also tells you about the quality of ingredient used to make the food. For example - A whole wheat bread should have “whole grain whole wheat flour” as an ingredient. Just “whole wheat flour” doesn’t mean the bread is whole grain.

  • Several beverages sold in the market may appear to be healthy drinks. Look at the ingredients to see if it is loaded with water, sugar and artificial color and flavors and has little or no juice.

  • It can be used as a source of information for people with food allergies.

3. Nutrition Claims

Nutrition Claims is a statement about the amount of a nutrient found in a food. These claims are regulated and can be written on a food package only when the food meets a certain nutrition criteria.

Nutrition claims are OPTIONAL and hence may not be found on all food products. The food companies can choose if they want to write a claim on their food products. Therefore, keep in mind that foods with nutrition claims on the packaging are not necessarily the healthiest ones. A product without a claim could be better. You have to compare the Facts Table to know the difference.

Examples of nutrition claims are:

  • When you want to decrease the amount of particular nutrients, look for: Free, Low, Reduced, light

  • When you want to increase the amount of particular nutrients, look for: Source, high or good source, very high or excellent source

4. Health Claims

Health Claims are statements about foods and are generally disease risk reduction claims. Health claims are regulated and therefore all foods with health claims must meet certain criteria set by Health Canada. Similar to Nutrition claims these are OPTIONAL as well.

Some foods may not have a health claim even though they may meet the criteria. This could be because some food companies decide not to use health claims. That is why it is important to read the Nutrition Facts Table to help you decide which foods to buy.

Below are examples of five health claims you may find on foods:

  • A healthy diet rich in vegetables and fruit may help reduce the risk of some types of cancer.

  • A healthy diet low in saturated and trans fat may reduce the risk of heart disease.

  • A healthy diet containing foods low in sodium and high in potassium may reduce the risk of high blood pressure, a risk factor for stroke and heart disease.

  • A healthy diet with adequate calcium and vitamin D and regular physical activity helps to achieve strong bones and may reduce the risk of osteoporosis.

  • Plant sterols help lower cholesterol.

The Bottom Line:

Pre-packaged foods can be part of a healthy diet. Canada’s Food Guide recommends that you read food label and compare them to choose foods that contain less fat, saturated fat, trans fat, sugar and sodium.

The information presented is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. It is intended to provide ongoing support of your healthy lifestyle.

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Mississauga, Ontario 

L5L 3V9

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