Consumers are more interested in nutrition today. This is reflected in a greater demand for foods that are lower in calories, sodium and fat and higher in dietary fibre. This education session has been designed to educate consumers on making healthier food choices by providing information on how to read food labels.
To improve the nutritional knowledge of university/college students concerning the importance of reading food labels to make healthier food choices.
At the end of this session participants will gain an understanding of:
- The three key areas on a food package which contain healthy eating
- The meaning behind the nutrition claims found on food packages.
- How to use the information on food labels to make healthier food choices.
|| 15 Minutes
Suggested Background Reading for Presenters
Using Food Labels To Choose Foods For Healthy Eating : Health and Welfare Canada. (Included)
- PENS: Being Label Literate
- Nutrition Labels
- Food Labels and Healthy Eating
- Claim Quiz
- Claim Quiz Answers
- Suggested Handouts
- What do food labels really tell us? Heart and Stroke Foundation.
- Nutrition Labelling, Dietitians of Canada.
- Nutrition Matter: Lower Fat - Label Fit, Middlesex-London Health Unit, 1995.
Where do you find healthy eating information?
There are three key areas on a food package that contain nutrition information; the ingredient list, the nutrition claim and the nutrition information chart.
1. Ingredient list
All packaged foods in Canada must list the ingredients contained within that product. This helps consumers identify foods that contain ingredients to which they may be allergic or want to avoid. Ingredients are listed in descending order by weight: the ingredient present in the largest quantity is first, while the ingredient present in the smallest quantity is last on the list. This provides the consumers with some idea of the proportion of an ingredient in a particular food.
2. Nutrition Information
Nutrition labelling is a voluntary program that allows food manufacturers to put information about calories, protein, fat, carbohydrate, fibre and vitamins and minerals on a food label if they wish to do so. Nutrition information is mandatory though, when the package contains a nutrition claim. Note that this information is based on the contents of the products 'as sold'. It does not take into account the nutrient content of ingredients that may need to be added to the product at home such as hamburger meat to a casserole mix or milk to a pudding mix.
When a manufacturer chooses to provide the consumer with a nutrition information chart, it is mandatory that a "core list" of nutrients on a per serving basis be provided. This list includes the ENERGY (in kilocalories and Kilojoules), PROTEIN, FAT and CARBOHYDRATE.
3. Nutrition Claim
A nutrition claim is used to highlight a key nutrition feature of a particular food item. It is often placed on the front of a package label in big bold type. There are rules set by the government for the use of nutrition claims. In order to make a claim, the product must meet certain standards. Note, caution regarding two nutrition claims. The claims "Cholesterol Free" (or "No Cholesterol") and "light" (or "Lite") can often be deceiving. Both claims are often incorrectly interpreted as being low in fat. The first claim means that the product contains no animal fat. It could essentially be quite high in fats of plant origin. The second claim could be referring to the product's texture, colour, flavor or other product quality. Be cautious when interpreting these two claims.
Nutrition Information Chart
a) Nutrient Content for Serving Size
Consumers should realize that if they eat more or less than the stated serving size, the nutrient values for the nutrients listed will increase or decrease accordingly.
b) Values for Energy, Protein, Fat and Carbohydrate
Energy is given in both kilocalories and kilojoules. For most products, fat is recorded as a total amount in grams. Sometimes, fat is further broken down into its monounsaturated, polyunsaturated, saturated and cholesterol components.
c) Percentage of Recommended Intake (DRI)
This is where vitamins and minerals are listed. The DRI of a vitamin or mineral is a value developed for the purpose of food labelling only. It is based on the highest Recommended Nutrient Intake, with the exception of pregnant or breast feeding women.
[Handout the "CLAIM QUIZ". Invite students to complete the quiz. Allow 5 minutes for completion followed by a brief discussion.]
How can nutrition information help us to eat healthier?
Canada's Food Guide to Healthy Eating emphasizes choosing whole grain, low fat and/or enriched products, more often. It recommends that we limit our sodium intake. In order to do this, it is very important to read food labels.
Choose whole grain and enriched products more often.
Look at the ingredient listing to see if the product contains whole grains (e.g., whole wheat). If it does not, then look to see if the product is enriched. This means that nutrients which were lost during the milling process have been reintroduced into the product. All flours in Canada must be enriched. In general, an enriched product is a better choice than one that is not. To determine whether a product is enriched or not, either look for the word "enriched" or look for the following nutrients in the ingredient list: iron (ferrous sulfate), thiamin and riboflavin.
Choose lower fat foods more often.
Choosing lower fat foods is a key message of healthy eating. Many foods though, may contain hidden fats. Here are a few tips on how to minimize your fat intake categorized according to the four food groups:
Meat and Alternatives
- Choose extra-lean or lean ground meat. Drain all the fat after cooking.
- Remove the skin from poultry prior to cooking.
- Remove any visible fat from meat.
- Consume fish and seafood more frequently.
- Try roasting, baking, broiling or micro-waving instead of frying.
- Minimize consumption of high fat meat (e.g., bacon, hot dogs, chicken wings and ribs).
- Choose a lower fat milk (e.g., skim, 1% or buttermilk).
- Choose lower fat cheese and lower fat yogurt.
- Limit consumption of nuts and seeds.
- Read labels on granola cereals and bars carefully as some may be very high in fat.
- Crackers may also have a lot of hidden fats. Choose some of the new reduced fat crackers. Most have approximately half the amount of fat with all the same flavour.
Vegetables and Fruit
- Limit consumption of avocados. They have a high fat content.
- Avoid french fries and other vegetables which may be deep-fried such as mushrooms and zucchini.
Remember, no more than 30% of your daily calorie intake should come from fat. For example, if you are a woman aiming to keep your fat intake to 60-65 grams per day and you choose a frozen entree that contains 25 grams of fat, then you are using up almost half of your daily fat allowance. This is okay as long as you cut back on your fat intake for the rest of the day. Remember moderation is the key.
To Choose Foods Containing Less Salt
Canadians are encouraged to eat less salt. Less salt is recommended to be used during food preparation and at the table. When shopping, check labels and compare brands to lower the amount of salt you use. A word of warning about products that claim there is "50% less salt". This means that the product is lower in salt than the regular product, BUT does not necessarily mean that it is low in salt. Nevertheless, it is a smarter choice than the regular high sodium counterpart.
Nutrition Claim Quiz
- A product can be considered calorie free if it contains less than ___
calories per serving.
- A product can be labelled calorie reduced if the product contains ___
fewer calories than the regular product.
a) 25 % b) 40% c) 50 %
- Cholesterol free products are low in fat and are suitable for people on a restricted fat diet?
T or F
- If a product contains __ g of fibre, it is considered to be a source of fibre
but if it contains a minimum of __ g of fibre, it is considered to be an
high source of fibre. On the other hand, if a product has __ g of fibre, it
considered to be a very high source of fibre.
- A "Lite" product means that a product contains half the amount of calories than the regular product?
T or F
- How much fat must be in a product in order for it to be called "LOW IN
- On certain products in the grocery store, one can find the terms % M.F. or % B.F. What does M.F. and B.F. stand for?
- There are differences in nutritional quality between canned fruits and
vegetables, graded Canada Fancy, Canada Choice and Canada Standard?
T or F
- When canned fruits and vegetables are of different sizes, colours and ages, would they be Canada Standard or Canada Choice?
- 5 calories. If a product is labelled low calorie, it has less than 40 calories per reference amount.
- 25% fewer calories per serving than the regular product.
- FALSE - "CHOLESTEROL FREE" must have less than 2 milligrams of cholesterol and 2 grams or less of saturated fat per serving. It is important to note that this is a claim which has received a lot of attention. It is often placed across all types of food labels including oils, bread products, cereals, frozen waffles, frozen french fries, crackers etc. These foods are not necessarily any healthier for you. Food companies may use this claim to make consumers feel that cholesterol is bad because it raises your blood cholesterol. Actually dietary fat, not dietary cholesterol is the main factor involved in raising blood cholesterol. Cholesterol free products can still be high in fat.
- 2 grams - example: whole wheat bread
4 grams - example: broccoli
6 grams - example: bran cereal
- FALSE - "Lite" products contain one third fewer calories or half the fat of the reference food.
- Low Fat - a product can contain no more than 3 grams of fat per serving
- Percentage Milk Fat or Butter Fat. This is found on dairy products. This is an excellent way for consumers to judge the amount of fat in a product. The smaller the number, the less the fat content.
- There are no differences in nutritional quality but there can be big
differences in costs. Consider what the product is going to be used for before buying. If the product is going into a casserole or a stew, then you may get by with a lower grade product, e.g., Canada Standard.
- Canada Choice - Canada Choice products are of different sizes, colours and ages without marks; whereas Canada Standard have some marks on them, but are also of different sizes.
- Ingredient List
Listed in descending order according to weight.
- Nutrition Information Chart
Not mandatory in Canada.
Must contain at least the "Core List".
- Nutrition Claim
Highlights the key benefits of the food.