Food Labelling

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by Marie Traynor,
Registered Dietitian and Public Health Nutritionist at the Leeds, Grenville and Lanark District Health Unit

This holiday season will be very different for many of us. But, with some food labelling information, we can still choose the healthiest and tastiest products possible, whether we are shopping for our families, or choosing foods for others.

Health Canada has introduced changes to food labelling based on consumer feedback. The food industry has been given until 2021 to make these changes. The Nutrition Facts table and the ingredients list are two sources of valuable information on food packaging.

The ingredients are still listed with the most by weight at the start of the list, but now you’ll start seeing similar ingredients grouped together. For example, all sugars-based ingredients will appear in brackets after the word ‘sugars’, to help identify all of the sources of sugars added to a food. Also new, you’ll start to see food colours listed by their individual common names.

Nutrition Facts Tables are changing slightly and in a good way. This is where you find the information on how much of a nutrient is in the described serving size. They are also very useful when comparing products. You’ll find the Nutrition Facts Table on all packaged, bottled or canned food items.

When comparing two products, start by comparing the serving size. Use the serving size described in milliliters (mL) or in grams (g). As the food industry begins to catch up with the changes, you will see the Nutrition Facts Tables using similar serving sizes for similar products.

Use the % Daily Value (% DV) to see if a serving size has a little or a lot of a nutrient. Keep in mind that 5% DV or less is a little, and 15% DV or more means a lot. This important message will appear at the bottom of the revised Nutrition Facts Tables. For example, if you are trying to reduce the sodium in your diet, you might choose a product that has 5%DV or less of sodium. Or, if you are trying to increase your calcium, look for a product with 15%DV or more of calcium. Nutrition claims are often the first piece of nutrition information one sees on packaged food. They must follow Health Canada rules. Nutrient content claims highlight the amount of a nutrient in a food such as ‘very high source of fibre’. Diet-related health claims highlight helpful effects of a certain food on a person’s health, such as ‘a diet low in saturated and trans fat reduces risk of heart disease’.

Nutrition claims are optional. Just because there isn’t a claim on the package, that that doesn’t mean it’s not a good choice. Use the Nutrition Facts table and the ingredients list to make food choices that are best for you.

Also know that the words ‘lite’, or ‘light’, can refer to the taste, texture, or look of a food, not just calories. The words ‘lower’, or ‘reduced’, mean the nutrient is lower than in the original. And ‘no sugar added’ does not mean sugar-free. Natural sugar may still be present.

Other information on food packages can include how much is in the container, how to reach the manufacturer, the expiry date or the best before date, recipes, how to store the product after opening, and, of course, lots of marketing stuff!

For more information, go to www.healthunit.org and see the Healthy Eating and the Food Safety sections. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook (@LGLHealthUnit) or call 1-800-660-5853.

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