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It is important to know how to read and interpret the information and above all, understand that the answer does not only reside in the nutrition facts table!

The fundamentals of a label

The nutrition facts table:

Since January 2003, the hidden facts about food products have slowly started to emerge. The standardization of nutrition labeling of prepackaged foods, now allows consumers to make sensible choices when purchasing food products.

Where to start?

1-The portion
The nutrition facts table indicates the amount of calories contained in a particular food product, as well as 13 important nutrients, according to a predetermined portion. This portion does not necessarily correspond to the portions found in the Canadian Food Guide. For example, one portion of firm cheese, according to Canada’s Food Guide, amounts to 50 g. On the packaging of this cheese, the portion will range between 15 and 60 g.
For instance, those of you who may like peanut butter, and usually eat four tablespoons instead of the two recommended on the nutrition table of its packaging, must remember to multiply all of the other nutritional values that appear on the chart by two.

2-Calories
A unit of energy-producing potential used to determine the nutritional value of foods according to the quantity of heat released upon combustion of 1 g of material. In today’s market ‘’light’’ products can be found almost everywhere. Do the following exercise: compare any light peanut butter with its original version. You will be surprised to see that the difference is often minimal.

3-Lipids – Supplier of energy and nutrients
Lipids include all fats (saturated, trans, monosaturated, polysaturated) contained in one portion.Saturated fats are fats which remain solidified at room temperature. They can be found in various quantities, in all fatty foods, and are generally more concentrated in animal fats.
Trans fats are unhealthy fats made through the chemical process of hydrogenation of vegetable oils (hydrogen added to oil to render it solid at room temperature) used in food processing. During hydrogenation, certain healthy unsaturated vegetable fats are transformed in saturated fats or trans fats, both unhealthy. For more details on trans fats.
Monosaturated fats, also called omega-9s, and polyunsaturated fats (omega-3s and omega-6s) are considered healthy fats and have well-known protective beneficial effects on the cardiovascular system. They are found mostly in nuts, vegetable oils and a variety of fatty fish.
4-Cholesterol – helps the formation of cells and hormones
The body produces the majority of its cholesterol but also obtains it from food consumption. A high cholesterol level may bring about a heart attack or stroke.
5- Sodium – Helps balance body fluids
In other words, salt. Eating too much salt may be unhealthy and cause hypertension, renal problems, water retention, etc. Sodium is found abundantly in deli meats, canned soup, prepared meals and snacks.
6- Carbohydrates- Energy supplier to the brain and muscles
Carbohydrates include:

  • Sugars such as: monosaccharides (glucose) and disaccharides (saccharose), starch, polyhydric alcohols (isomalt, lactitol, mannitol, sorbitol, xylitol) and
  • Dietary fibres.

Aside from helping prevent constipation, dietary fibres help prevent heart disease and help control your appetite.
We must favor carbohydrates that have a low glycemic index (as they do not cause a high increase in insulin). When absorbed too quickly, those with a high glycemic index will produce a significant increase of insulin and can generate drops in blood glucose levels. For more details on glycemic index.

7- Proteins – Helps build muscles bones and teeth.
Proteins can be found in different foods such as meat, poultry, fish, legumes, nuts, dairy products and grain products. Plant proteins should be favoured since they only contain little fat while being rich in fibre, vitamins and minerals. However, the nutrition facts table is not mandatory for meat, raw poultry and fish. Below, you will find the protein content of certain foods, as a reference:

 100 g portion Proteins 
 Chicken breast cooked, without skin 33 g
 Corn beef lean, grilled, well cooked
 28 g
 Pink salmon, cooked
 22 g

8-Vitamins and minerals

Vitamins A and C, calcium and iron are basic nutrients that must obligatorily appear in the nutrition fact table.
Vitamin A:     Maintains healthy skin and vision.
Vitamin C:    Helps fight infections.
Calcium:    Helps keeping bones and teeth healthy.
Iron:    Helps red blood cells transport oxygen throughout the body.

9- The % daily value (%DV)
The % daily value allows checking if a particular food contains a lot or a little given nutrient according to guidelines for healthy eating. Considering that it measures nutrient levels from the same chart (0 to 100 % daily value), the % daily value allows you to quickly identify strengths and weaknesses of a food product and facilitate its comparison with others of its kind.
You wish to decrease your fat and salt consumption?
Look for a low percentage of lipids, trans and saturated fats and sodium.
You wish to increase your fibre, vitamin and mineral intake?
Choose foods that have high percentages of fibres, vitamins and minerals.
Food Label Ingredients: what you should know...

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