Do you remember the days when there weren’t nutrition labels on packaged food at the grocery store? I know that for a good portion of my life there weren’t nutrition labels on foods, but I honestly don’t remember those days. Perhaps because I didn’t grow up with nutrition labels, I never really paid attention to them, until a few years ago when I became a parent. At that time, the food that I was putting on the table, and nourishing my children with suddenly became a whole lot more important.
Even when I started looking at the nutrition labels on the food that I was buying, it seemed like Greek to me. Last year, I confessed to a friend that is a nutritionist that I really had no idea what I should be paying attention to on the nutrition label. I remember asking her what it was that I should be looking at on the label– Fat? Calories? Carbs? Fibre? Sugar? Protein?
I grew up during the “low fat” craze of the 80’s and 90’s so for years the fat content was the first place my eyes went on the nutrition label. I remember buying red liquorice at the grocery store, seeing the label “fat free!” and thinking that I was making a good snacking choice! Now I know that good fat, doesn’t make you fat, and I’m much less concerned about that line than some of the others.
But seriously! What should you be looking at on the nutrition label? I recently got some insight on the subject from Health Canada and today I thought I’d share those ideas, along with some thoughts on how I read nutrition labels with all of you.
Read on for our Back To Basics- Nutrition Label 101 plus your chance to win a $100 grocery gift card!
Back To Basics- Nutrition Label 101
Step 1: Look at the serving size. Portion control is something that I have struggled with my entire life and sometimes nutrition labels can be a bit tricky. For example, I currently have a bar of dark chocolate sitting on my desk. When I look at the calories it says 210 calories. But wait! Look at the serving size and it says that one serving is 4 squares of the chocolate. The entire bar has 10 squares– AKA 525 calories. Looking at the portion size helps me immensely because I now measure out one portion, put it on a plate and stop eating once I’m done with one serving. Before, it’s quite possible that I would have mindlessly ate the entire, 525 calorie, bar of chocolate.
Step 2: Look at the Daily Value Percentage. Check the different categories and see if each category has a little or a lot. If your favorite soup has 75% of your daily sodium intake for the day, it might be time to find a soup that has less salt. Looking at the daily percentages can also help you with your meal planning. If your morning yogurt and berries have 25% of your carbs for the day, it can help you plan out what to eat throughout the rest of the day so that you don’t go too carb heavy.
Step 3: Look at the Nutrients. Choose foods that have more of the nutrients you want, and less of the ones you don’t want.
There are a ton of different “diets” out there that will tell you different ways to eat. From the low fat, high carb diets of the 80’s and 90’s, to the high fat, high protein diets of today. Everyone’s body is different and different ways of eating are going to work better for different people. One of my favorite cookbook authors, and the founder of the Academy of Culinary Nutrition Academy, Meghan Telpner, is known for her quote “Labels are for tin cans.” In other words, no one diet, can work for everyone, and instead of labeling ourselves (Paleo, Vegetarian, Vegan, Atkins, etc.) we should focus our efforts on eating real, healthy, delicious food.
What works for me, may not work for you, so I won’t take too much time in this post telling you about the way my family eats, but I try to keep my carbs and sugars to a minimum, and make choices that are a good source of protein. So for example I would choose a plain Greek yogurt (which is high in protein and low in carbs) and add my own fruit to it, rather than choosing a 0% fat flavored yogurt, which would tend to be higher in carbs and sugar. If I make a choice that is higher in carbs, I always check the fibre category to make sure that I’m making a carb choice with a good percentage of fibre.
Health Canada recommends that you look for choices that have a little (5% or less) of saturated and trans fats and sodium and a lot (15% or more) of fibre, vitamin A, calcium and iron.
Step 4: Look at the ingredient list. This one is my own addition, but it’s one that’s important to me. Look at the ingredient list and make sure you know the ingredients that you are using to fuel your own body and the bodies of your family. I try to do this as often as possible so that the majority of the food that my family is eating is “real food”. Are there times when we cheat and my kids have a cookie that I don’t recognize every ingredient in? Absolutely! But the majority of the food that comes into my house now have pretty clean ingredient lists, with words that I know and can pronounce.
Do a bit of research, find out what ingredients are being used in your favorite foods, and make sure that you’re comfortable with the choices.
I hope that this all makes sense and gives you a good basics into reading nutrition labels! Visit the Health Canada Nutrition Facts page, Facebook page and Twitter account for a ton of great resources and information that is easy to understand and perfect for busy families!
Please also feel free to ask any questions you may have in the comment field below! I feel like my knowledge about food and nutrition is constantly evolving and if I don’t have the answer I’d love to research it and try to find one for you. Getting my Culinary Nutrition Expert certification was such an eye opening experience and I love sharing the knowledge with others!
Now for what you’ve all been waiting for! Are you ready for your chance to win? We’re giving away a $100 grocery gift card!
The gift card can be used in Canada at:
The giveaway is only open to Canadian residents, excluding Quebec. Good luck!
Tell me… Do you check the nutrition label before buying food? What question would you ask a nutrition expert?
Disclosure: Thank you to Health Canada for working with us on this post. As with every post on Hello Creative Family, all thoughts and opinions are 100% our own.