Reading food labels – What you should know about what you’re eating

Read this food labels FAQ and understand exactly how fat, salt and added sugars are listed with this guide to the good and bad ingredients in our foods and beverages

Food Labels

Read food labels carefully to find out what exactly is in your diet

Due to the big “low fat” fad, most read food labels and only look for how much fat the food has. However, there are many other ingredients that one needs to be aware of in foods and beverages.

How a food label reads: The order in which the ingredients are listed on food labels is very important – first two ingredients on the list, is what the food is mostly comprised of. So if sugar is first on the list, then the food is primarily sugar.

What to look out for:

  1. Sugar – there are approximately 100 different names for sugar and sugar alcohols
    Sugars come in these forms: Cane juice extract, corn syrup, dextrose, evaporated cane juice, fructose, glucose, high fructose corn syrup, brown rice syrup, lactose, maltose, sucrose, agave, honey, molasses, and maple syrup.
  2. Sodium: - Different forms of sodium that you may not be aware of: Sodium benzoate, onion salt, disodium phosphate, brine, baking soda, baking powder, MSG.
  3. Saturated fat – and trans fats – causes heart disease, and has zero nutritional value
  4. Unnecessary additives – food colourings, flavorings etc
  5. Processed ingredients – Example in bread, unless it states the wheat used is 100% stone ground whole wheat flour, and then it is not fully whole wheat. In whole wheat the husk is removed from the grain, which is the most nutritious part of the grain, both in nutritional content, and fibre.
  6. What does one serving of the food provide – sometimes it will say 12 pieces of crackers is one serving, other times it will say, this package has 2 servings per package. Beware, each food label isn’t always the same

What does it mean when the label says reduced sodium? – means the food has been processed and reformulated or otherwise modified to contain 25% less sodium. Examples of foods with these labels: soups, cooking stocks, butter and butter substitutes, pasta sauces, frozen dinners. However, even some of the “low sodium” products, still are quite high in salt.

How much fat is a good amount of fat, and what kind of fat? Unsaturated, polyunsatured and monosaturated fats are the “good fats” while saturated, hydrogenated, partially hydrogenated, and shortening are the “bad fats”. You have to know first that 1gm of fat contains 9 calories, so if the total caloric value of the food is 250 calories, and the label says the food has 5 gm’s of fat, then that 45 cal from the 250 calories total comes from fat – which would be low. The percentage of a “good” or unsaturated fat on a label should be no more than approximately 30% of the total amount of calories.

What does high in fibre mean? For something to be considered high in fibre, it must contain at least 4gm’s of fibre. Our total daily average for fibre intake should be in and around 15 – 20gm’s per day.

What does it mean when it says it is a good source of a certain vitamin or mineral? The particular vitamin or mineral it is touting should be more than 15% of the recommended daily intake per serving.

What does it mean when it says it is calorie free? The food or beverage should contain less than 5 calories

What does it mean when it says it sugar free? The food or beverage should have less than 0.5gms of sugar

What does it mean when it says “free, low or reduced levels of cholesterol”? Free: <2milligrams, low: <35milligrams, and reduced: at least 25% than regular product or <2gm’s of saturated fat.