Decoding the Nutrition Label

>> Monday, February 22, 2010

Nutrition Label - Scrumptiously Fit Food

Nutrition labels became mandatory in December 2005 for all prepackaged food in Canada. The label allows consumers to understand what nutrients are provided to them from the foods they purchased. All labels contain the same categories of information and in the same order: serving size, calories, % daily breakdown, etc... Let's look at these categories in further detail.

Serving Size
A small container of food can contain several servings, which can be deceiving because the container or bag looks so small that people just assume that it only has one serving. It's important to look at the serving size and compare it to the total package size. The nutrition label can also include the total number of servings per container / package. Similar food items will normally display their nutrients in the same serving sizes for easier comparison as well.

Amount per Serving
This is where we get all the detailed breakdown of data for each serving from calories per serving to protein etc. The % Daily Value is calculated based on a daily 2000 calorie diet. Any specific %DV higher than 20% is considered high an should be eaten in moderation. %DVs that are displayed are based on 100% daily intake and do not sum up to 100% since the package doesn't contain all nutrients required on a daily basis. It has been dictated by government regulations that all serving information is broken down in the following format:

Calories: The number people focus on when dieting or eating better. It's important because it tells us the total amount of energy we receive through consuming the food, however it should be the only number that's important for eating healthy and maintaining a healthy weight. For overall weight loss, the formula remains, less calories in to more calories used = weight loss. The body will need to burn 3500 calories a week in order to lose 1lb of body fat.
The main rule to remember is Protein and Carbohydrates = 4 Calories / Gram, whereas Fat = 9 Calories / Gram.

Calories from fat: Gives you an idea of how many calories are derived from fat. This is not always included on every package, but you can calculate that through the total fat displayed on the label.

Total Fat: All fat that is in eat serving including all good and bad fats.
Saturated and Trans fats will be displayed here, some companies like to show that they incorporate healthy fats such as monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. If the healthy fats aren't listed you can determine their amount by taking the total fat subtracting the saturated and trans fats, the remaining number will give you your total healthy fats included in the product. It is recommended that the total daily intake of fat for an adult not exceed 25-30%, of which less than 10% is saturated. Trans fats should be limited as much as possible and best if there are none in the diet at all.

Cholesterol: Usually displayed in mg (milligrams). For individuals concerned about their cholesterol levels, they should look at keeping their daily cholesterol intake below 200mg.

Sodium: Most prepackaged foods these days often contain a high amount of sodium. It is recommended that sodium levels not exceed 1500-2400mg per day for healthy adults. Try buying foods that are around 140mg per serving to keep sodium levels low or better yet, cook food at home so you can control the amount of sodium used.

Total Carbohydrates: This category includes all different forms of carbs (sugar, fibre, starch, etc). Carbohydrates are the main energy source for our bodies. Aim to get 50-60% of your daily calories intake from carbs, but good complex carbs like whole grain and beans and not sugar.

Protein: The main building block for our muscles, aim to get 15-20% daily. There are many different types of proteins including meats, soy products and beans.

Nutrient Information:
Many adults don't get enough vitamins and minerals in their diets, look closely at what each item is providng and the daily percentage (calculated based on 100% of daily requirements for each vitamin or mineral and not a percentage of the serving). It is only required to display Vitamin A and C, Calcium and Iron, it is up to the company whether they would like to provide additional data on other nutrients.

Hopefully this information has helped clarify all the information on those mysterious nutrition labels and has made eating healthy an easier option!


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