5 Tips to Read the Nutrition Fact Labels

Healthy eating
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The nutrition facts table is an important tool to guide you in making good choices. It provides the quantity of each nutrient (in grams or milligrams) as well as the percentage of the recommended daily value based on average population needs (based on a 2000-calorie diet) for a day. Why should you read product labels and how? Let me explain.

5 Benefits of Reading Labels (Ingredients and Table)

1. Compare products more easily, based on equal portions, and choose your own serving sizes instead of relying on the serving size suggested by the manufacturer.
2. Understand the nutritional value of the foods you eat.
3. Increase or decrease the amount of certain nutrients in your diet (e.g., increase fiber or omega-3 intake and reduce consumption of added sugars or sodium).
4. Make more health-conscious choices.
5. Differentiate between valid nutrition claims and food marketing used by companies to highlight the benefits of their products, often leaving out any flaws.

How to Read Labels Properly?

The nutrition facts table can be divided into 5 parts: serving size, energy content, fat content, sodium content, and carbohydrates. Here are some tips to help you understand each part and make better choices.

1. Serving Size

The indicated serving size may not correspond to the portion you consume. It varies among brands, so make sure to compare them for the same quantity before evaluating the nutritional value of one food item compared to another.

2. Energy Content

Energy refers to the number of calories per serving. It's important to compare the serving size listed on the table to the portion size you consume. For example, you may eat an entire 200g bag of chips while the serving size listed on the table is 50g. Be vigilant!

3. Fat Content

This refers to the fats contained in the food. There are different types of fats. On the label, you'll find saturated fats and trans fats, which should be limited as they increase the risk of heart disease. Choose foods with 5g or less of fat and 2g or less of saturated and trans fats per serving. It's important to choose less processed foods, as low-fat foods are not necessarily healthier and may contain higher amounts of sugar or salt.

4. Sodium Content

Sodium refers to the salt content in the food. Most people exceed the recommended maximum intake of 2300mg per day. Choose foods with a daily value of 5% or less.

5. Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates include sugars, starches, and fiber. Prioritize foods high in fiber due to their beneficial effects on digestion. For cereal products, choose items with more than 2g of fiber per serving, and prefer products with 6g or less of sugar per 30g serving (9g or less if the product contains fruit).

5 Additional Tips to Go Further

  1. Be aware of "hidden" sugars such as cane syrup, sucrose, fructose, honey, glucose, corn syrup, as they can add up and form a significant portion of the product. 
  2. Buy food products with a minimal number of ingredients (less than 10 ingredients) or opt for a homemade version.
  3. Reduce purchases of products where the first three ingredients are sugar, fat, and salt.
  4. The percentage of daily value for sugars, salt, saturated and trans fats should not exceed 15% as it indicates a high content of these components.
  5. However, pay attention to the 15% for other nutrients like vitamins, fiber, minerals, and omega-3 fatty acids as it indicates that the food is nutritionally beneficial.

Next Steps for a Healthier Diet

In conclusion, reading food labels is both a straightforward and complex task that can significantly benefit your well-being. It offers numerous advantages such as easily comparing products, adjusting the amounts of certain nutrients, and choosing healthier options. Additionally, it helps you distinguish between marketing claims and the actual nutritional benefits of the products.

Moreover, it's crucial to understand the different sections of the nutrition facts table. Be vigilant about serving sizes, caloric values, types of fats, sodium content, and foods high in fibre. Don't forget to identify "hidden" sugars and opt for foods with as few ingredients as possible. When it comes to daily value percentages, don't exceed 15% for sugars, salt, and saturated and trans fats. On the other hand, look for high percentages for nutrients like vitamins, fibres, minerals, and omega-3s.

If all this sounds overwhelming, or if you have specific dietary needs, why not consult a nutrition expert for guidance? Book an appointment with a registered dietitian today to get personalized and tailored advice. With this knowledge in hand, you'll be equipped to make informed food choices.

Registered Dietitian Nutritionist