Friday, July 03, 2015

Nutrition Labels Are Your Friends - If You Understand Them #FocusOntheFacts

At this time of year a lot more of my family's diet is comprised of fresh produce, even a variety of items from our own backyard (our cherries will be on the table this weekend!). But packaged foods are still a necessity, and I do my best to make the healthiest choices possible when I'm browsing the supermarket aisles. Nutrition labels are an important resource, providing specific information on vitamins, calories, fat content, sodium and more. But do you know how to read these labels properly?

The Nutrition Facts Education Campaign: Focus on the Facts is a partnership of the Retail Council of Canada, Food Consumer Products of Canada, Canadian Federation of Independent Grocers, and Health Canada, with a goal of educating Canadian consumers on how to read the Nutrition Facts table as an aid in making informed food choices. Boo and I were introduced to the campaign at a recent Fact Finders' Mission event, where the kids donned detective hats and grabbed their magnifying glasses as we teamed up and sought out the clues to healthy food choices in the grocery aisles. It was an informative event, and I was glad we were able to include our children and engage them in some fun learning about the food they eat.

The education campaign is especially focused on highlighting the key concepts of serving size and %DV, and how to interpret them. There is currently no standard for serving size, and so different brands within a food category may use a different serving size on their nutrition label. Always check the listed serving size before reading the nutrition breakdown. Is this a realistic serving size for your family? Or would you be eating more/less? If you are comparing two items, are the tables based on the same or similar serving sizes? If not, be ready to do some math before you make your final decisions.

The %DV listing gives the percentage of the recommended daily value of that nutrition component that is found in the listed serving size. This number will tell you if the serving size has a little or a lot of a nutrient. Generally speaking, 5% DV or lower is considered a little, and 15% DV or more is considered a lot. So, if you are on a low sodium diet, for instance, you want to look for a %DV less than 5. Looking for a good source or fibre or calcium? Make sure that number is 15 or higher. I think that 5/15 rule was probably the best thing I learned at this event. These numbers gave me specific guidelines I can readily use as I interpret these labels.

During the event we broke into teams and were tasked to choose two products in each of three categories (grains and pastas, sauces, soups or canned goods, and sweet or salty snacks), of similar serving size. We then had to compare the two items and report back to the group with information on their nutritional break down. The activity prompted us to read carefully, and gave us some surprises.
Naturally Boo had to check out the Pringles.
In the sauces, soups, canned goods category, for instance, we decided to look at pasta sauces. We chose a name brand tomato-based sauce, and a fancy, gourmet-looking veggie-based sauce. Which would win the nutrition battle? Not the one we expected!

The serving sizes weren't exact, but were only off by a teaspoon so the labels were comparable. We had expected more nutrition bang for your buck with the Butternut Squash pasta sauce, but actually found it only came out on top in terms of Vitamin A. It qualified as fairly high in fat content, and the sugar was high as well. When we cross-referenced with the ingredients list we found the butternut squash had sugar added to the recipe, which is not something we wanted to see.

The bottom line? Read those labels, and be sure you are aware of serving sizes before you start making decisions based on relative nutritional value. The information is there. You just have to know how to read it.

In the meantime, head on over to and take their four-step quiz for your chance to win one of six $300 grocery gift cards. The contest has six entry periods through March 31, 2016, and is open to Canadian residents only. You can enter daily. Best of luck!

Disclosure: This post is brought to you by Focus on the Facts. All opinions on this blog, as always, remain my own or those of my family.

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