Labels on packaged food give you facts about the nutrients, ingredients and calories (energy) in the food you eat. Using this handy information can help you make healthier choices, but it can sometimes be confusing.
It’s easy to miss important facts if you’re not used to reading Nutrition Fact tables (NFT). The good news is it’s not too late to learn!
Read through this list of common mistakes you might be making when it comes to reading food labels and then check out the resources provided so you can start making healthier choices the next time you go grocery shopping.
- Skip over the serving size?
The serving size tells you how much food is used to calculate the numbers in the Nutrition Facts table. That means the numbers and percentages in the Nutrition Facts table are all based on the serving size stated at the top of the table under the heading "Nutrition Facts". If you eat more or less than the serving size listed, you will need to adjust the calories and the % Daily Values of the nutrients. Learn more about serving size.
- Forget to compare foods?
The grocery store is full of choices! And every packaged food item has different amounts of nutrients. Use the % Daily Value (% DV) on the right hand side of the Nutrition Fact table to see if the serving size listed has a little or a lot of a nutrient. 5% DV is a little and 15% DV is a lot. Choose the food that has a lower %DV for nutrients you need less of (like sodium and fat) and a higher %DV for nutrients you need more of (like calcium and fibre). Use this interactive tool to practise your comparison skills.
- Get confused by nutrition claims?
There are two types of regulated nutrition claims that can be on food labels: a nutrient content claim and a health claim. Nutrient content claims say things like “very high in fibre” or “lower in sugar” and their purpose is to give you an idea of the amount of a nutrient in a food. See a list of what these claims mean. Health claims are statements about the helpful effects of a food and say things like, “a healthy diet containing foods low in sodium may reduce the risk of high blood pressure.” Where you might get confused is when marketing comes into the picture – these messages are meant to increase the sales of products and can often sound much like a nutrient or health claim. For example, companies may use unregulated terms like “natural”, or “superfood”, which might make you think a food is healthy without reading the Nutrition Facts table. Read the rules that Health Canada sets out for these claims to help you become a savvy shopper.
- Miss multiples of ingredients because they’re listed under different names?
Packaged food will have a list of ingredients which shows what is in the food you’re about to eat. Nutrients like sodium and sugar can sometimes appear on ingredient lists under many different names. See this list of the most commonly used terms for sugar to get a better understanding what ingredients are in your food. Health Canada is proposing changes on how sugars information appears on food labels. Learn about all the proposed label changes and how they could help you make healthier choices at the grocery store.Reading Nutrition Facts tables might seem like a lot to bite off, but try to make one or two changes at a time and pretty soon you’ll be making healthier choices for your whole family. Here’s a basic guide to keep on hand.