Understanding Food Labels

food labels

You’re in the cereal aisle and you’re barely able to understand the meaning of the food labels that appear on the sides of the various boxes. Don’t worry, you’re not alone.

In 2014 and 2015, Health Canada held public consultations to look at how they could make constructive changes to nutrition labels. The main objective was to help Canadian consumers better understand these labels so they can make more informed decisions. Let’s walk through these labels together!

3 basic principles to remember when reading food labels

Servings: When comparing products, check the serving sizes first and adjust the calories and nutrients based on how much you eat. Make sure you compare the serving size indicated to the serving you actually consume. If you consume more or less than the serving indicated, don’t forget to adjust the nutrient and calorie amounts.

Daily value percentages: Remember that 5% or less is little and 15% or more is a lot. For example, you should use the % DV to choose products with nutrients you want more of (fibre, calcium, iron and Vitamin A) and those with nutrients you want less of (sodium and saturated and trans fats).

List of ingredients: All ingredients contained in the food are listed in descending order by weight. The food labels will list the ingredient that weighs the most first.

Remember to consider each food item as a whole. For example, two snacks may contain nearly as many calories as one Greek yogurt, which contains 11 grams of protein, calcium and other essential nutrients.

One serving of Greek yogurt contains more grams per serving, but it’s also a lot more filling. This concept is referred to as energy density. The energy density of cookies is greater given the calories it contains based on weight.

Overview of food labelling changes

  • The font size of serving sizes and calories will increase.
  • Sugar will now include a percent daily value (% DV) based on a daily value of 100 grams. These changes on the food labels will make it easier for consumers to see how much sugar a food contains.
  • All sugars-based ingredients will be grouped in brackets after the name “sugars.” This well help consumers identify all of the sources of sugars added to a food.
  • A note will be added to help explain the percent daily value.
    • 5% or less is little
    • 15% or more is a lot
  • The nutrition facts table will include potassium, which most Canadians don’t consume enough. This nutrient plays a key role in maintaining healthy blood pressure levels.
  • Vitamin A and Vitamin C will be removed from the nutrition facts table because most Canadians get enough of these nutrients in their diets.

  Here’s an example comparing the current nutrition label with the new proposed label:

food labels health canada


Source: Health Canada

These practical tips are sure to help you make better choices next time you go to the supermarket. Make sure to pay attention to the food labels, they can really help in maintaining healthy eating habits!

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