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Getting the Most Out of Food Labels

As consumers we have many sources of information - some more reliable than others, some easier to understand than others. In many countries, compulsory food labelling is now in effect with the hope that it will provide quick and easy to understand composition and nutrition information. The more you look at a food label, the more information you find.


Recently, Health Canada created an interactive website to help Canadian consumers better understand the nutrition information on food labels in Canada. Starting with a photo of a label for crackers, the site allows you to find out more about Nutrition Facts, Specific Amount of Food, % Daily Value, Core Ingredients, Nutrition Claims and the List of Ingredients.

Touching the Nutrition Facts label brings up a screen that explains how the label information can be used. For example, to allow for easy comparison of different foods, to allow for the quick determination of the nutritional value of foods, to allow people with special (nutritional) needs to make choices about different foods, to help people make choices so to avoid particular food components.

The Specific Amount of Food button leads to a screen that points out how data on the label is related to a portion size, and explains how portions are expressed in household familiar quantities and metric units.

In order to see how the food contributes to the total diet, the % Daily Value is used. Using a scale of 0-100%, it is very easy to determine how much of the suggested amount to be consumed each day of a particular nutrient is supplied by the food product.

A list of nutrients in food products is shown when the Core Nutrients button is touched. A food label can contain information about calories, iron, calcium, vitamin C, vitamin A, protein, sugar, fibre, carbohydrate, sodium, cholesterol, trans fat saturated fat, and fat. The Core Nutrient page gives information about each of these nutrients including common sources of the nutrient, some of the metabolic uses in the body and how the nutrient contributes to health.

Claims such as “source of fibre”, “low fat”, “cholesterol free”, “sodium free”, “reduced in calories” and “light” are explained in the window behind the Nutrition Claims button. These claims can only be made if the product satisfies certain criteria which are explained on this page.

The List of Ingredients page reminds Canadian consumers that on food labels in Canada, ingredients are listed in descending order of weight. This allows a consumer to quickly compare similar products and to choose foods that are low or devoid of certain ingredients. This is particularly useful for people with allergies or specific diet restrictions


Nutrition Labelling Health Canada

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