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Updated: Aug 15, 2022

Understanding the food we eat

Food labels are important tools in managing a wholesome diet and helping consumers make more informed product choices. They're a source of information about calories and the nutritional value of the foods you eat.

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. It allows you to:

  • learn about the calories and nutrients the item contains

  • make it easier to compare similar foods

  • look for foods that have a little or a lot of a certain nutrient

  • select foods for special diets

The first place to start when you look at the Nutrition Facts label is the listed serving size and the number of servings in the package. Then multiply the values by the number of servings you will be consuming. It's very important to compare the serving size to the actual amount you eat.

The ingredients list typically appears close to the Nutrition Facts Table on the food product. Understanding the ingredients list can help you look for specific ingredients that you want or do not want because of allergy or intolerance and decide which products are best for you.

Ingredients are listed in descending order 'by weight'. The first ingredient listed in the food product weighs the most and the last ingredient weighs the least. 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.

When looking at each individual nutrient, it's very hard to understand if the amount of a nutrient is low, adequate, or high from just seeing the grams or milligrams. 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 8% of the percent daily value is considered adequate. Refer to the bottom of each nutrition table for this percentage.

Under Canada's Food and Drugs Act, Canadian food labels must now list the total amount of sugars, which combines added sugars and any naturally occurring sugars. 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 dairy. Be aware that while some manufacturers will provide a separate line featuring "added sugar" so it's easier to know just how much is added versus naturally occurring, there is no obligation on the part of the manufacturer to do so.

A good rule of thumb is to skip foods that list "sugar" as the first or second ingredient. Note that products may use a variety of sweeteners so be sure to scan the full ingredient list for the most common names for sugar - dextrose, fructose, galactose, glucose, lactose, maltose and sucrose.

Watch the video below to work out Qspice's ingredient list and nutrition label.


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