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4 Tips to Read Food Labels

Do you read food labels? Health Canada is proposing new changes to product labelling that will help make them easier to understand, and to know how much sugar, fat, salt and calories you are getting. Until then, here are four facts to watch for:

  1. Read the ingredient list. The front of the package that may say “100% Natural” or “No Added Sugar” is only designed to sell the product. The ingredient list on the back or side describes what’s inside. For example, the top peanut butter brand states “No transfats” on the front, but lists “hydrogenated oil” in its ingredients. It can make that claim because it has been calculated per serving to be low enough to pass Health Canada’s laws.  
  2. Labels must list ingredients in order from the largest to smallest amount. To make you think the food is better for you, manufacturers separate certain ingredients into two or more, such as sugar divided into “cane sugar,” “dextrose” and “honey,” making the amount of each smaller even though they’re basically the same. Manufacturers realize that you might not buy the product if the first ingredient was sugar. 
  3. Large manufacturers are in business to make money. Publicly traded food corporations increase their bottom line by: 1. using low cost/low quality raw materials to keep the consumer price low 2. processing so the product doesn’t spoil and can sit on store shelves for many months 3. increasing incentive for people to eat the products by using addictive substances labelled “flavourings.” (Kevin Trudeau, Natural Cures They Don’t Want You to Know About, 2007) 
  4. Read Nutrition Facts: Check “Servings per container.” If you forget this step, you may think you’re eating 100 calories (listed per serving) when you are actually eating 300 if you eat the entire package and there are 3 servings per container. Calculate total sugar and salt content, too. Health Canada daily limits (for healthy people not trying to reduce weight) – Calories: women 1,600/men 2,300, Sugar: women 25 grams (6 teaspoons)/men 37.5 grams (9 teaspoons), Salt: 1,500 mgs-2,000 mgs (1/4-1/2 teaspoon). 

* It is also important to look closely at and compare supplement labels.