Shopping guide: How to Select Your Products at the Grocery Store

Healthy eating
Femme lisant l'étiquette nutritionnelle tout en achetant de la nourriture au supermarché.

Reading the Ingredients List

  • Ingredients are listed in descending order by quantity. Consider the first three ingredients. 
  • A product is less desirable if its first ingredient is sugar, fat, or a refined grain.

Some Harmless Additives and Their Functions

Inulin, chicory root Prebiotic fiber
Ascorbic acid, citric acid, phosphoric acid To prevent browning
Guar gum, carob gum, cellulose gum, maltodextrin, carboxymethylcellulose, alginate, carrageenan To thicken
Lecithin, mono and diglycerides To emulsify
Calcium propionate Anti-mould

Reading Labels

1. Check the variable reference portion for different products

  • Ask yourself, "Does this correspond to a portion I would eat?"
  • To compare similar products, if portions differ, use "rule of three" calculations for comparison.

2. Calories

  • A calorie is simply a unit of energy measurement! It doesn’t indicate the nutritional quality or our enjoyment of eating.
  • Rather than focusing on calories, look at the nutrients that influence them: macronutrients.

3. Macronutrients

  • Macronutrients are molecules the body can use as an energy source.
Fat 9 kcal / g Main component of oils and butter
Carbohydrates 4 kcal / g Scientific word for the groud of sugars (Also known by its diminutive, carbs)
Proteins 4 kcal / g Main component of meat, fish, tofu, etc
Alcohol 7 kcal / g Not found in the Nutrition Facts table, found in wine, beer, etc.

What to Favor?

  • Fibres: aim for 3-4 g per portion.
  • Proteins: needs vary by individual. Consult your nutritionist.
  • Minerals: can be beneficial for certain conditions (e.g., anemia, osteoporosis, etc.). Consult your nutritionist.

What to Limit?

  • Saturated fats: aim for 5% or less on the label.
  • Trans fats:
    • Previously manufactured in factories, banned in Canada since 2021.
    • Aim for 0 g per day.
  • Sugars: max 50 g per day (or 10% of total energy intake).
  • Sodium (salt): aim for 10% or less on the label.

Nutritional facts

% of daily value

Validating Criteria

Validating criteria of nutriment of some foods

 *For crackers and cereals, it's preferable to compare products by weight (e.g., 30 g) rather than volume (e.g., 1 cup (250 ml), 12 crackers).

Challenge: One Item at a Time

  1. Each week, choose an item from your grocery list and become an investigator: among similar products, can you find a better one?
  2. Pay particular attention to saturated fats, aim for <5% on the label.
  3. Make it a habit to look at the entire label rather than just the calorie count; you'll find a variety of information to guide you toward better choices.
Registered Dietitian Nutritionist