Understanding the information on the label helps in making good choices.
When looking at a new product or comparing foods, the food label can help you make wiser choices. The ingredient list is key, especially if you have food allergies or must avoid certain ingredients. Find this list on the back, bottom or side panel of a packaged food. The ingredient listed first is present in the largest amount. The last ingredient listed is present in the smallest amount.
The table is not printed on:
Most labels for packaged food sold in Canada display the Nutrition Facts table. The table contains useful information on calories, fat, carbohydrate, protein and ten other nutrients.
Directly underneath the title ‘Nutrition Facts’, a serving size with the related nutrition information is listed. Looking at the serving size is necessary, as all of the information that appears in the table is based on this amount of food. For instance, the Nutrition Facts on a box of crackers might be based on eight crackers. Consider the amount of the food that you usually eat. You might have more or less than eight crackers. Eating 16 crackers would double the amount of calories, carbohydrate, fat and other nutrients.
Tip #1 - Set the stage for success by planning to stock your refrigerator and cupboards with healthy, delicious food. Think about the week ahead and the ingredients you will need to enjoy satisfying breakfasts, filling lunches and delicious dinners. Make a grocery list to save time as you shop, avoid impulse purchases and ensure that you will have the ingredients that you need.
Tip #2 - Shop the outside aisles. Many main ingredients (vegetables and fruit, dairy products, meats, fish and poultry) can be found on the outside aisles of your local grocery store. Once you have the basics covered,
you will have time to compare some food labels on products from other aisles.
The calories listed refer to those found in a serving size. By checking serving sizes, you can compare calories between two products more easily. If you are watching your weight, choose a product with fewer calories.
Fat is listed as total grams for a serving of the food. Of this total, some is saturated and trans fat. These fats raise cholesterol levels in your blood. Try to eat foods that contain lower amounts of these fats.
Did you know? Every five grams of fat is the same amount you would get in a teaspoon of butter or margarine.
Cholesterol is a type of fat that raises cholesterol levels in the blood. It is found in foods from animals. The amount of cholesterol is listed in milligrams. If you are on a lower cholesterol diet, aim to eat less than 300 mg of cholesterol each day.
Sodium chloride is table salt. Foods that contain a larger amount of sodium may raise blood pressure in some people.
Quick tip: To choose a lower sodium product, check the % Daily Value listed on the Nutrition Facts table. A % Daily Value of 5% or less means that the food contains a little sodium. A % Daily Value of 15% or higher means it contains a lot.
Carbohydrate-containing foods are your body’s main source of energy. They also have the most effect on your blood glucose levels. The Nutrition Facts list the total amount of carbohydrate in one serving of a food, along with its fibre and sugar content.
Did you know? Eating foods higher in fibre can help you feel full. When comparing products, choose foods with a higher amount of fibre and less sugar.
Protein is a building block of many foods we eat. Protein foods have less effect on blood sugar levels.
The Nutrition Facts table also contains information about the amount of vitamins A and C, calcium and iron in a food. Remember, the % Daily Value tells you if a food contains a little of a nutrient (5 per cent or less) or a lot (15 per cent or more).
Now that you have stocked your refrigerator and cupboards with healthy foods, put those ingredients to work and try a new recipe.
Visit www.dietitians.ca to see a new recipe each day or browse the collection of soup, salad, main meal and dessert recipes.
Have you tried vegetable frittata?
Go to www.diabetes.ca/diabetes-and-you/recipes to try this and other creative and delicious recipes.
Food companies are allowed to include certain health claims, or statements, on food labels if a product meets standards set by Health Canada. These claims provide information on how a particular food may reduce your risk of health problems. If you have special health concerns, this can make it easier for you to choose foods.
Scientific studies indicate that certain foods can help lower cholesterol:
Approved health claims also indicate links between the following:
For instance, you might find this claim on a food package: '1/2 cup (30 g) of Brand B cereal with psyllium supplies 50% of the daily amount of fibre shown to help lower cholesterol. Psyllium fibre helps lower LDL cholesterol, a risk factor for heart disease.'
The claims are very specific. Only certain foods meeting special standards set by Health Canada are allowed to include these claims on the labels.
Shopping carefully is an important part of protecting your health. With a little planning, and a close look at food labels, you can use the Nutrition Facts table to make smart choices.