Demystifying Food Labels
Food labels can be overwhelming because they pack a lot of information within a tiny space. Read on to help make healthy shopping easier.
Understanding Nutrition Facts Tables
This chart, located on the reverse label of prepared food products, lists the number of key nutrients in the food item per the label’s defined serving size. Serving size is listed beneath the title Nutritive Facts and may include the words serving size or merely be identified by a measurement such as “Per 4 Tbsp (60mL)”. The table then lists nutrient information including calories, fat, cholesterol, sodium, carbohydrates and assigned values in both weight and percentage. The weight indicates the weight of that particular component per serving. The percentage represents the percent of the daily intake of that nutrient recommended for the average adult. Once you understand what these numbers mean to you and your diet, reading labels becomes easy.
If you measure out 4 tablespoons of salsa at a total of 7% sodium, does that mean you can responsibly eat foods equaling another 93% of your daily sodium intake? No! The percentages are intended to be a guideline of high and low quantities. According to the average adult diet, a nutrient Daily Value of 5% and under is considered “low” and 15% and up is considered “high”. Understanding that will make you look twice at labels on everything including everyday items such as bread, soup, and cereal. Pay close attention if you’re after high fibre and protein and low sugar. Always remember to look at the suggested serving that the nutrition facts table is using, particularly if you’re comparing products.
Health and nutritional claims come in a variety of forms, including “low-fat”, “good source of fibre” and “no sugar added”. Other labels to watch for include “organic”, “non-GMO” and “may contain soy”. While many packaging claims must meet specific requirements per Health Canada, always read the nutrition facts table and the ingredients list.
Understanding Ingredients Lists
The order of ingredients is as important as the nutritive facts. Ingredients are ordered from most to least by weight; the first item on the list is the heaviest, and the last ingredient is the lightest in the recipe. You want to see where key ingredients to your diet line up, especially salt and sugar. Sugar has many different names including sugar, fructose, glucose, dextrose and high-fructose corn syrup, and some surprising sources like fruit juice, agave, maple syrup and honey because natural sources of sugar are still sugar.
Reading and correctly interpreting nutritional information on food labels is a crucial part to eating a healthy diet. Take a look beyond promotional labels on the front of the packaging and flip to the back for the whole story. Items you may have thought were healthy may be high in sugar, fat, or may not have as much protein and fibre as you expected. You may also discover products that you assume don’t have enough of the nutrients you’re looking for are a good fit after all.
Let MVP Meals help you take the guesswork out of meal planning! Our healthy, nutrient-rich meals support a wide range of dietary needs, and they’re delicious. Check out this month’s menu and place your order today.