Understanding Food Labels

Description

In order to choose the right foods, you must know their nutritional value. This information can be found in various ways, particularly by consulting food labels.

Nutrition information can be found on the labels of prepackaged foods. It includes:

  • The Nutrition Facts table
  • The list of ingredients
  • Nutrition and health claims

Nutrition labelling is regulated by Health Canada. At present, a Nutrition Facts table and list of ingredients on food labels is mandatory in Canada.

Nutrition Facts Table

The Nutrition Facts table was devised to help you make informed choices. It allows you to:

  • Compare two similar products easily
  • Determine the amount of nutrients and calories a food contains
  • Identify foods containing a little or a lot of a certain nutrient
  • Select foods that meet special diet plans (for example, a special diet for diabetes)

The table contains information on calories, key nutrients and the percentage of daily value for each food (% DV). The information presented in the table is based on a specific portion, which varies from one food to another.

The portion presented in the Nutrition Facts table does not necessarily reflect the suggested serving size. This is only a reference amount used to calculate calories and nutrients.

Percentage of daily value can help you choose healthier foods. This ratio indicates whether a specific amount of food contains a little (5% DV or less) or a lot (15% DV or more) of a particular nutrient. This way, you can use the % DV to compare two different food products.

The law requires that all packaged foods sold in Canada have a Nutrition Facts table.

List of Ingredients

The list of ingredients shows what is in the packaged food in descending order by weight. This way, the ingredient that weighs the most is listed first and the ingredient that weighs the least is listed last. 

Nutrition and Health Claims

A claim is a statement on food packaging. The statement may describe vitamins or minerals content or identify health benefits. Manufacturers of food products generally use two types of claims:

  • Nutrition claims can help you make informed food choices. They emphasize the food’s nutritional benefits with a descriptive phrase, such as “a good source of iron” on the label.
  • Health claims are statements about the helpful effects of a certain food consumed as part of a healthy diet. “A healthy diet low in saturated and trans fats may reduce the risk of heart disease” is an example of a health claim.

These claims are regulated by Health Canada to make sure they are consistent and not misleading. Their presence on food products is optional.

Other types of claims have appeared in recent years on packaging and price labels of food sold in supermarkets. They include statements such as “Healthy for you” or “Healthy choice,” as well as symbols and logos. These claims are developed by companies and third parties. While it is required that the information be truthful, consumers should not rely solely on general health claims to make informed food choices.

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Last update: November 29, 2016 1:09 PM

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