Nutrition labels can seem complicated and confusing. But, their information can help you make better food choices for healthier eating.
In Canada, by law, packaged food must be labelled with a Nutrition Facts table and an ingredient list.
The Facts on Nutrition Facts
The Nutrition Facts table contains the amount of calories and nutrients in 1 serving of food or drink.
5% Daily Value or less of a nutrient is considered “a little”, whereas 15% Daily Value or more of a nutrient is considered “a lot”.
A Closer Look at Ingredient Lists
A breakdown of all ingredients used to make a packaged product, the ingredient list is organized by weight; starting with the most abundant ingredient and ending with the least abundant ingredient.
A new Canadian requirement – effective 2022 – will ensure that all sugar-based ingredients are grouped together after the term “Sugars”. This is especially helpful for people managing type 2 diabetes as it enables easy identification of hidden sugars.
A Closer Look at Spices and Seasoning
Spices, seasonings, herbs, natural and artificial flavours, flavour enhancers, food additives, vitamins and minerals are included – in no specific order – at the end of an ingredient list.
Nutrition labels can also include 2 types of optional claims that focus on specific nutrients in a food or drink:
Nutrient content claims highlight the amount of a nutrient in a food or drink. Click on any of the keywords below for more information on a nutrient content claim:
Free, No, 0, Zero, Without
Contains an amount of a nutrient that’s so small, it likely won't have any effect on the body (e.g., Zero calories, Cholesterol-free)
Low, Little, Few
Contains a very small amount of a nutrient (e.g., Low-fat)
Reduced, Less, Lower, Lower in, Fewer, Light*
Contains at least 25% less of a nutrient vs. a similar product due to food processing (e.g., Less sodium)
*Calories and fat only.
Provides at least 50% less of an added nutrient (e.g., Lightly salted)
No added, Without added fat, sodium/salt, sugars
Has none of a nutrient added to it (e.g., No added sugars)
Source contains calories, fibre, omega fatty acids, protein, vitamins/minerals
Provides a significant amount of a nutrient (e.g., Contains omega-3 fatty acids)
More, Higher, Higher in calories, fibre, protein
At least 25% more of a nutrient vs. a similar product (e.g., More protein)
Good source of vitamins/minerals
At least 15% of the recommended daily intake (e.g., Good source of calcium)
High in, High source of fibre
Contains at least 4 g of fibre (e.g., High in fibre)
Excellent source, Very high in, Rich in fibre, protein, vitamins/minerals
Provides a very large amount of the nutrient (e.g., Excellent source of Vitamin C)
Lean or Extra lean fat
Contains 10% or less fat (e.g., Lean chicken)
Contains 7.5% or less fat (e.g., Extra lean beef)
Contains at least 25% less calories than the food to which it is compared (e.g., Light mozzarella cheese)
Health claims highlight the benefits of specific food products on certain conditions and/or diseases; they appear with nutrient content claims on food packaging.
Below are 2 examples of health claims you may see on your foods and drinks:
Specific nutrients and reduced risk of high blood pressure
“A healthy diet containing foods high in potassium and low in sodium may reduce the risk of high blood pressure – a risk factor for stroke and heart disease.”
Specific nutrients or foods and reduced risk of heart disease
“A healthy diet low in saturated and trans fats may reduce the risk of heart disease.”
“A healthy diet rich in a variety of vegetables and fruit may help reduce the risk of heart disease.”
Helpful Tips for Smarter Food Selection
Compare and contrast Nutrition Facts.
Start with serving size and work your way to number of calories and % Daily Value of both products. Compare these values to make an informed decision on what you’ll be eating or drinking.
Pay attention to
% Daily Value (%DV).
Select food and drinks with a high % DV of nutrients like calcium, fibre, iron, and vitamin A and a low % DV of carbohydrates, saturated/trans fat, and sodium.
Pore over ingredient lists.
Remove items with high amounts of the ingredients you’re trying to avoid, based on allergies, intolerances or other dietary objectives. People with type 2 diabetes should be mindful of the “3 S” ingredients:
- Sugar*; i.e., corn syrup, honey, evaporated cane juice, sucrose, glucose, fructose, galactose, etc.
- Sodium; i.e., salt, brine, baking soda, etc.
- Saturated fat; i.e., beef fat, butter, lard, palm oil, etc.
*TIP: An ingredient ending in “-ose” is usually sugar.
Be a nutrition claim nerd.
Look for keywords such as “high in”, “excellent source of”, “low”, or “reduced”. Stock up on foods and drinks that are high in the nutrients you need (i.e., vitamins, minerals, fibre) and low in the nutrients you don’t (i.e., saturated/trans fats, sodium, excessive carbohydrates).
Watch out for general health claims.
General health claims such as “healthy for you” or “healthy choice” are made by third parties or corporations. Refer to the Nutrition Facts table to make informed food selections.