Tuesday, March 29, 2016

The Nutrition Facts Table & Your Family - Focus on the Facts

Do you know how to use the Nutrition Facts table (NFt) on packaged foods to make informed choices for your family? Do you understand what "% DV" means and how to interpret "Serving Size?" Not everyone does, which is a shame, since so much valuable information is provided there. Once you know how to interpret that information, you can use it to ensure your family is getting more of the nutrients you want (like fibre, calcium and vitamins) and less of those you don't (like saturated fats, sugars, and salt).

To help me learn more about the Nutrition Facts table, the Nutrition Facts Education Campaign (NFEC) invited me and my family to take part in a Fact Finder's Mission. They sent along a kit with a selection of generic food packaging we could use for comparisons, along with some fun detective accessories to spice things up.

Here's our kit. It came with a blank NFt on white board, with markers, so we could record our findings.

The NFEC: "Focus on the Facts" is a cooperative effort among Food & Consumer Products of Canada (FCPC), Health Canada, the Retail Council of Canada (RCC), and the Canadian Federation of Independent Grocers (CFIG). It was created to help Canadians learn how to use the Nutrition Facts table to make informed food choices. The important basics - start with understanding the Serving Size and then look at the Percent Daily Value (% DV).

I think he may wear that Sherlock hat all the time now. He was pretty pleased with it. But he also got into reading the labels and figuring out the differences between similar products. We used the white board to record results as we went along.

When you are comparing products, be sure you first look at the serving size on which the nutrition information is based. Two manufacturers may define different serving sizes for their products, so you could need to do some math. You also need to consider if the serving size listed makes sense for you. Will you eat basically that much? Or is your typical serving more or less? You'll need to adjust accordingly.

Let's have a look at these veggie burgers. The first line of the table gives the serving size - in each case it is one burger patty, and the patties are 130g for both "brands." This makes the comparison an easy one. But after those similarities, things quickly change.
Burger A has more calories (350 to 200), more fat (27g to 9g) and less sodium (330mg to 800mg). But is that good or bad? Or how bad is it? The % DV is the best indicator. This is the percentage of the daily recommended intake for each item on the label. As a rule of thumb, 5% or less is considered "low" and 15% or more is considered "high."

So, Burger A, with 42% of the recommended daily intake of fats, and a whopping 70% for saturated and trans fat is really quite high. Burger B checks in at 14% and 15%, which is a much more reasonable amount. If fat intake is a major consideration for you, Burger B is your best choice. However, if you are on a low sodium diet, Burger A scores better, with 14% of the daily recommended value as compared to 33% in Burger B. Carbohydrates, protein, and vitamins are very close in both, but Burger A has a lot more iron, if that's a concern for you and your family.

So, yes, even with the information, and knowing how to interpret it, things can get complicated. It may be that you decide against both options you are comparing, but more likely that you'll make an informed choice of one or the other based on the specific nutritional concerns of your family. Remember, knowledge is power! So arm yourself with the knowledge on the NFt, and you'll be sure to make the best buys for your family table.

Disclosure: This post is brought to you by the Nutrition Facts Education Campaign. The opinions on this blog, as always, remain my own.

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