Reading Nutrition Labels

by Jen on March 26, 2012

How to Read Nutrition Labels

Today, I want to discuss nutrition labels.

Do you get confused by nutrition labels?  Better yet, do you read nutrition labels?

Nutrition labels haven’t been around very long.  Actually, it wasn’t until 2005 that nutrition facts became mandatory in Canada for pre-packaged food products.  So it isn’t surprising that many people don’t even know what to look for on a nutrition label.

When I first started my journey towards a healthy lifestyle, I would always look at the nutrition facts on packaged goods.  However, the only facts I was concerned about were calories and fat.  That’s it.  If a product was high in calories and fat, I tended to avoid it.  Because the first thing you’re told when you start dieting is to cut the calories and fat.  Period.

Well, I’ve come a long way since then.  And I’ve learned that calories and fat are probably the last things you should be looking at when reading a nutrition label.

Here’s why:

nutrition-facts

Lets start at the top with Serving Size:

The serving size is super important, because the information on the rest of the label is based on one portion of the package only.  Some products (like a small bottle of juice) often contain more than one serving.  So, if you are going to drink the entire bottle of juice, then you better multiply the nutrition information by however many servings there are in the package.  For example, in the above nutrition label, if you were to eat the whole package, then the number of calories you are consuming would be 250 x 4 or 1,000 calories!

So remember to always look at the serving size first.  You might be surprised at how small the typical serving size is!

Moving on to some of the Nutrients:

This is where things can get really confusing.  But I’m here to help make it simple.  The things we want to avoid as much as possible are trans fats, saturated fats, and added sugars and sodium.  We want to consume healthy fats and foods that high in protein and fiber because these foods help to keep our blood sugar stable, our stomachs full, and our health optimal.

Don’t worry about the “% Daily Value” in this area.  This information is based on a 2,000 calorie diet, and since everyone consumes a different amount of calories based on their activity level (and a bunch of other factors), you don’t need to be concerned about those numbers.

Lastly, the rest of the Nutrients:

This portion of the label shows how much of the recommended amount of certain vitamins and minerals are in the food.  Your goal is to reach 100% for each vitamin and mineral every day.

I tend to do most of my grocery shopping in the outer perimeter of the grocery store (i.e. the produce section) where things don’t really need labels.

However, I do need to buy canned and packaged goods too.  When it comes to canned goods, I always look for “no-salt-added” or “low-sodium” options.  When I shop for grains, I look for grains that are high in fibre such as oatmeal and whole-wheat options.  For cheese, I always buy the low-fat version and for milk, it’s the skim (or 1% for the kids).  In the meat department, I always buy the “extra-lean” ground beef and “boneless, skinless” chicken.

To summarize:
Stay away from –> trans and saturated fats, added sodium, and added sugars.
Consume foods with –> good fats, high fibre, and high protein.

Question: do you read nutrition labels?  If so, what do you look for?

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Joey Tipping March 26, 2012 at 8:05 am

I mostly look at the sat.fat, the calories and the sodium content and if those are high I’ll look for other options. But I shop like you. One day a month or so ago, I was checking out my groceries at Fry’s and the clerk commended me on the amount of produce (green stuff) I had in my cart. She said that most people have very little produce graceries. Too bad. That’s the tastiest part! Thanks for a great blog subject.

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2 Jen March 26, 2012 at 8:10 am

It’s very sad that people prefer to buy packaged good. No wonder produce is so expensive! I sure hope that changes soon!

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