Food Labels 101

National Nutrition Month continues! When it comes to healthy eating, the ability to read and interpret food labels is absolutely essential. I know it’s not always the most convenient thing to do. Most people don’t want to waste time at the grocery store comparing products; they just want to grab what they need and go. It’s important, however, to know exactly what you’re putting into your body! The health claims slapped onto products do not always provide accurate information about how healthy an item actually is. I’ll use the following example to demonstrate:

According to the claim on this box, one serving of this cereal contains 51% of your daily value of fibre. That’s all fine and dandy… if you’re a woman! Men’s fibre needs are higher than women’s, so if you’re a male, this product actually contains closer to 34% of your daily value of fibre. Just a quick sidenote – my intent is not to pick on a specific company or criticize a particular product.. I’m just pointing out a fact!

In addition to being mindful of health claims, here are a few other areas to pay close attention to:

1. Serving Size: I would recommend looking at this first. Calories only tell you so much – you need to know exactly how much food is considered to be one serving. Which would you prefer:  Cereal A which has 160 calories for a 1-cup serving, or Cereal B which has 150 calories for a 1/3-cup serving?

2. Fat: Yes, there is such a thing as “healthy fat”. Unsaturated fats, such as monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, are considered “heart-healthy”. These types of fats can be found in certain vegetable oils, nuts, seeds, avocados, and fatty fish, such as salmon and trout. Aim to consume saturated fats in moderation, and try to minimize your intake of trans fats as much as possible.

3. Cholesterol: This is a type of fat that is manufactured by the body and also found in certain foods – animal-based foods, to be exact (i.e. meat, cheese, eggs, etc.). If you have high cholesterol, it might not be a bad idea to reduce your intake of animal-based products and increase your intake of plant-based foods, like whole grains, vegetables, fruits, and legumes.

4. Sodium: A recent news report stated that Canadians are consuming “sky-high amounts of sodium”. The daily recommended intake is only 1,500 mg, and maximum intake 2,300 mg. Pay close attention to the sodium content in canned soups, sauces, and other packaged foods. A label on a soup can might boast a sodium content of 300mg – but the serving size may only be 1/2 a cup! Do you know anyone that only eats half a cup of soup in one sitting, ‘cuz I sure don’t!

5. Fibre: Like I mentioned above, men’s and women’s fibre needs differ. Instead of relying on pre-packaged foods, consider seeking fibre from more natural sources, like fresh fruit, beans, and whole grains.

6. Sugars: Be very careful with added sugars. They often appear under strange names, like “glucose”, “dextrin”, and “corn syrup”. Yuck. Here’s a good resource with further information about hidden sugars.

7. Ingredients: The ingredients list is especially important to read, because it is here that you will be able to identify any hidden sugars or other strange things. Ingredients are always listed in order of weight, from most to least. Helpful tip: when shopping for whole grain products, quickly skim the list of ingredients to ensure that the first few ingredients listed actually say “whole grain”.

Source: Health Canada

When it comes to reading food labels, the bottom line is that it’s important to read all of the information as a whole – not just focus on certain items, like calories or fat. Next time you shop for groceries, try to take the time to really look at what you’re eating. If you need some help, Fooducate is a great app that can help you make healthier choices on-the-go! Alternatively, you can always call EatRight Ontario for FREE and speak to a Registered Dietitian!

Speaking of apps.. Some of you may remember the giveaway contest that took place last year, courtesy of the SlimKicker team. It looks like SlimKicker is now running a March Madness giveaway contest that just kicked off. You can sign up through Twitter for a chance to win a Bowflex Home Gym, valued at over $1,000! They’re also giving away 3 Amazon gift cards. I suggest you head over there now to enter the contest!

Be Well xo

*The information provided in this post is based on national standards for proper nutrition as recommended by Health Canada. I am not a Registered Dietitian or Certified Nutritionist, therefore the information presented here need not be interpreted as professional advice. You should consult a certified professional if you are seeking specific advice or recommendations about your diet.

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