Updated: Mar 19

Understanding the food we eat

Food labels are important tools in managing a wholesome diet. They are a source of information about calories and the nutritional value of the foods you eat.

The ingredients list is typically listed close to the Nutrition Facts Table on the food product making it easier to compare different products. Understanding the ingredients list can also help you look for specific ingredients that you want or do not want because of allergy or intolerance and make healthier food choices.

Ingredients are listed by order of WEIGHT which means the first ingredient weighs the most. There is more of the first ingredient listed in the food product and less of the last ingredient in the product by weight. This can be a bit counter intuitive because generally people visualize the list by VOLUME. For example, think of an ingredient list on a bag of popcorn using 1 tablespoon of butter and 4 cups popped corn. Butter would be listed first because it weighs 15g while the popped corn would be last because it weighs 8g.

The Nutrition Facts label provides detailed information about a food’s nutrient content, such as the amount of fat, sugar, sodium and fibre it has. The first place to start when you look at the Nutrition Facts label is the serving size and the number of servings in the package. Then multiply the values by the number of servings you will be consuming.

It is very hard to understand if the amount of a nutrient is low, adequate, or high from just looking at the grams or milligrams when looking at each nutrient. There is a simple trick to help you navigate this label: the 5/15 rule. The 5/15 rule comes in handy for a quick guide but it does not define a food as good or bad. In order to apply the 5/15 rule to a food item, you must look at the percentage given for each nutrient.

• 5% Daily Value (DV) or less is low – for nutrients you want to get less of, choose foods with a low % DV. Nutrients to get less of are saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, and sodium. • 15% Daily Value (DV) or more is high – for nutrients you want to get more of, choose foods with a high % DV. Nutrients to get more of are fiber, vitamins A & C, calcium and iron.

One may conclude that a nutrient that shows a 8% of the percent daily value is considered adequate.

Notice there is not a daily value percentage listed for sugar currently but Health Canada is getting that into place. The World Health Organization recommends no more than 25g of free sugar. Free sugar is any sugar other than the sugars in fresh fruits and vegetables, and milk.


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