Did you know March is Nutrition Month? Created in 1982, dietitians have been celebrating Nutrition Month for the last 40 years. Nutrition Month is a public awareness campaign created to promote the importance of healthy eating and to identify dietitians as the most credible source of food and nutrition information.
There is a new theme each year, and this year’s theme is “Unlock the Potential of Food: Ingredients for a Healthier Tomorrow”. Canadians face many challenges when making food choices, including social influences, food marketing, and the increasing availability of foods high in fat, sodium and sugars. These factors have a major impact on food choices and can make healthy eating a challenge for many people, which is why having the knowledge and skills to be able to read and understand nutrition labels is important.
All packaged foods in Canada must contain a nutrition facts table and an ingredient list. Once you understand how to read them, they are easy tools to help you to compare products and make healthier choices.
Nutrition Facts Table:
The nutrition facts table (NFT) tells you about the nutrients in the food. It can be used to see if a food contains a little or a lot of a nutrient, such as sodium, sugar, or fibre. This can help you better manage specific dietary requirements (for example, low sodium diet). The NFT can also help you compare similar products.
How to use the Nutrition Facts Table:
Step 1: Look at the serving size When you’re assessing the nutrients of a food or comparing two products, it is important to first check the serving size that is located at the top of the NFT. The serving size is the amount of food used to determine the information in the NFT. Remember, the amount you eat might be different than the serving size listed. So, if you eat double the serving, you have to adjust the numbers accordingly.
Step 2: Look at the percent daily value The percent daily value allows you to easily compare foods and make healthier choices. It is found on the right-hand side of the NFT. It provides a quick overview of the nutrient profile and tells you whether there is a little or a lot of a nutrient in a serving size of a food.
The rule of thumb for all nutrients with a percent daily value is:
- 5% or less is a little
- 15% or more is a lot
- saturated + trans fats
Using the Nutrition Facts Table to Make Healthier Choices:
You are checking the nutrition facts table of two snack foods. Which would you consider the better snack option?
Remember, Step 1 is to look at the serving size. If you look at the grams, you can see both nutrition facts are for a 50g serving; therefore, both snacks are easily comparable.
Step 2 is to compare the percent daily value. If you wanted a snack choice with less sodium and more fibre, which one would you choose?
The ingredient list tells you what is in the food. It can be helpful for identifying food allergens, meeting dietary or cultural requirements, and identifying sources of certain nutrients and their relative quantities in the food. Ingredients are listed in descending order by their weight. This means that a food contains more of the ingredients found at the beginning of the list and less of the ingredients at the end of the list.
The bottom line is the information on the nutrition label can help you make informed decisions about the foods you eat. Use this information in combination with Canada’s Food Guide to make informed choices on healthy eating.
Brittany Butland provides Dietitian Services at Horizon’s Albert County Community Health Centre. For more tips on nutrition and healthy eating, you can book an appointment with Brittany at (506) 882-3100.