Regardless of whether one is on a diet, food labels are a necessity to being knowledgeable about our food choices. For example, how do we discern between the value of two cans of soup when the serving sizes for each are so different? For busy AU students, deriving health value from nutrients can be a way of maintaining a healthy diet. Various food corporations use tactful marketing schemes to entice our appetite. For example, the “healthy dieting movement” has created advertising campaigns that appeal to health-conscious consumers, but how many of these claims are true? Enter the nutrition label; potentially the holy grail that dissects the actual nutritional value of a food item with little bias. The food label has several components worth mentioning. With a better understanding of these components, you’ll be more equipped to make sound decisions on your next trip to the supermarket.
- Serving size: the serving size denotes the quantity of a food item the average person consumes in one meal. Sometimes one serving size may not be a full amount contained within a package. For example, one serving size may be half a can of soup rather than a full can. Paying attention to the serving size can offer a clue of the quantity a person should consume in a single meal. Over-consumption of one food item may lead to excess of calories and a less balanced diet.
- Calories: For athletes and certain diet-followers, calories-tracking can be valuable to understanding the energy intake levels. However, tracking this number is only one aspect of maintaining a healthful diet. In fact, for individuals eating a diverse, balanced diet, this number is only a reference point rather than an absolute target for the day.
- Daily percent value: The % daily value refers to the nutrient content in a single serving of a food product. It is also an approximation of what portion of the nutrient should fill up your entire day’s worth of food consumed. For example, taking all the food I eat in a day to be 100%, 25% Daily value in Fibre would mean that eating four times that food item would mean I have satisfied my daily fibre intake. While this may seem simple, manufacturers do not always share what percent is optimal for a healthful diet. General rule: 5% of a daily value is less or little whereas 15% of a daily value is more or a lot. Aim for food high in fibre, Vitamins, calcium and iron while aiming for food low in Saturated and trans fats as well as sodium.
- Nutrient: Different nutrients are often shown in the food label. Targeting foods that contain more of the desired nutrient and avoiding food high in other contents can help AU students keep a balanced, healthful diet. Here are some popular nutrients in a food label:
(Saturated + Trans)
With these pointers in mind, comparing two packaged food items is the next step to making a more informed choice. Nutritional labels are only one part of being a more conscious grocery shopper, other ways include using the Canada Food Guide as a reference for meal portion sizes.