How to Read a Nutrition Facts Table

I recently came accross this article about processed food in the National Post . I haven’t read Michael Moss’s book Salt Sugar Fat but after reading this article I thought it would be a good idea to talk about food labels.

Food companies use clever marketing in order to get people to buy their products. Claims like “Made with Whole Grains”, “Naturally Flavoured” or “Cholesterol Free” are all marketing gimics to try to get those of us who don’t know any better to think we’re making the healthier choice. If you actually look at the ingredient list you might find that the first ingredient in the Fruit by the Foot which is “Naturally Flavoured” is sugar. Or what about the claim on my Quaker Oats Oatmeal that says that it’s “Cholesterol Free”? Well of course it’s cholesterol free! I would know that if I knew that cholesterol comes from animal sources like egg yolks I can only hope there aren’t any eggs in my oatmeal…

In addition to discussing the marketing strategies of food companies, Michael also talks about how he visited the Nestle Headquarters and sampled some foods made with less sodium then usual…the result: food that was “…tasteless …and almost impossible to recreate with natural ingredients.”

So what’s a consumer to do when grocery shopping? To start, buy as little prepackaged and processed food as you can. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: whole food is the best way to go when feeding yourself and your family! Also instead of using nutrition claims to guide your shopping look at the Nutrition Facts Table and the Ingredient Lists on packaged products. This is where you will get a good picture of what is actually in your food. Here are some helpful tips for using both:

The Ingredient List:

  • The shorter the better
  • Remember that the order of the ingredients is equal to the proportion of that ingredient in the food (look for sugar and salt etc at the end of the list)
  • If you can’t pronounce the items in the ingredient list…it’s not a whole food and you should probably move on
How to understand and use the US Nutritional F...

How to understand and use the US Nutritional Fact Label (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Nutrition Facts Table:

  • Look at the %DV remember that 5% is a little and 15% is a lot
  • look for less Saturated and Trans fat, sodium and sugar
  • look for more fibre, vitamin A, iron and calcium
  • Check the suggested serving and compare that to how much of the food you’re eating and with recommendations in Canada’s Food Guide

Check out Health Canada for some great tips on using the Nutrition Facts Table.

Also think about foods that don’t need an ingredient list or a nutrition facts table, Vegetables and Fruits, raw meats and fish and try to make these regular members in your grocery cart.