Healthy Hints from Pharmasave: Nutritional Labelling – Getting to Know it

Do you read the nutrition labels on the food you buy? They can help inform your decisions.

In Canada, manufacturers are required to include certain information on food packaging to inform consumers about the contents of their products. Together, this information can assist you in comparing products and making the healthiest choices for you and your family.

There is always a list of all ingredients in descending order, from the ingredient used most to the one used least. Watch carefully for fats, sugars, and salts, as they appear in various forms. They may be listed under other names, or may be present in ingredients that contain them.

Instead of “fat,” you may see:

  • lard
  • shortening
  • oils (palm, coconut, hydrogenated vegetable)
  • monoglycerides and/or diglycerides
  • tallow

Instead of “sugar,” you may see:

  • honey
  • molasses
  • anything that ends in “ose” (dextrose, sucrose, fructose, maltose, lactose)
  • dextrin or maltodextrin
  • syrups

Instead of “salt,” you may see:

  • MSG
  • sodium
  • baking soda
  • baking powder
  • brine
  • kelp
  • soy sauce

As you start to read ingredient lists, familiarize yourself with any words you don’t recognize. You’ll quickly learn to distinguish which ingredients are more desirable than others.

In addition to the ingredients, look for the Nutrition Facts label – this details the ingredients of the product as well as the nutritional contents and any health claims made by the manufacturer. The Nutrition Facts label will also explain the number of calories in a serving, as well as the amount of nutrients. Health Canada requires manufacturers to report on 13 specific nutrients (though manufacturers may include more). These required nutrients are:

  • fat
  • saturated fat
  • trans fats
  • cholesterol
  • sodium
  • carbohydrate
  • fibre
  • sugars
  • protein
  • calcium
  • iron
  • vitamin A
  • vitamin C

The label will show not only the amount of these nutrients present, but what the amount represents in terms of daily needs within a healthy diet. This helps to put some perspective on what you’re reading.

Finally, keep in mind that manufacturers are allowed to make some health claims about their products. It’s worth knowing that these statements are strictly regulated by Health Canada, and must meet approved criteria. Health claims may either draw attention to a nutritional aspect of the product, or advocate one or more of the following currently scientifically recognized links between diet and health:

  • A diet low in saturated and trans fat reduces risk of heart disease.
  • A diet with adequate calcium and vitamin D, and regular physical activity, reduces risk of osteoporosis.
  • A diet rich in vegetables and fruit reduces risk of some types of cancer.
  • A diet low in sodium and high in potassium reduces risk of high blood pressure.

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