Top 5 things to look at when reading a nutrition label

Nutrition Facts

My motivation for writing this post came from a recent experience where I forgot to read a nutrition label. My husband likes soy sauce and I usually buy a low-sodium version or Tamari for myself. On this occasion, I was at a different grocery store and couldn’t find my usual brand. I picked up the first thing I saw without even looking at the label. A few weeks later I was making a dumpling sauce for my husband and had a taste on the tip of my finger to make sure it tasted ok. I was horrified. I spit it out and immediately looked at the bottle of soy sauce. I was shocked to see what was listed on the label, over 1200mg of sodium in ONE tablespoon. What? How is this even being sold for human consumption? I took another taste of the soy sauce on its own to make sure it wasn’t my other ingredients throwing off the flavour, but no, it was horrible on its own.

Since my husband had already consumed this product on a few occasions, I asked if he’d noticed how horrible it was. Of course not. I rummaged through our kitchen drawers to find a packet of restaurant take-out soy sauce and did a taste test. Although they were both salty, the take-out packet actually tasted like soy sauce. The ‘soy sauce’ I had purchased tasted like pure salt with some caramel flavouring. I declared that I would not feed this product to anyone in my household, and poured it out.

I highly recommend reading the nutrition labels for EVERYTHING you buy. Information is power, and is essential when you’re trying to eat well and fuel your body, and your family’s, with food that’s nutritious and not full of salt, sugar and fats. Although all the information listed on the nutrition label is of value, and some people might focus on calories, carbs, fats, protein, macros, etc.; but I think that to keep things easy, it’s best to keep an eye on these 5 ingredients:

Serving size, Fats, Salt, Sugar and Fiber

Don’t worry, you won’t have to look at labels for every food you buy, just in the beginning and for new foods that you purchase. Once you’ve checked out a nutrition label and given the item the green light, you don’t need to look at the label again the next time you purchase it (unless you’re comparing similar products).

I read food labels 95% of the time. When I see a breakfast cereal or other prepared snack food with over a certain amount of salt or sugar, I just don’t buy it. This also reinforces the importance of purchasing fresh, whole foods as opposed to processed/packaged foods. I know we’re all busy and it’s hard to make everything from scratch, and that our kids want to eat the ‘fun’ packaged foods, but when we do make the choice to purchase something that requires a nutrition label, it’s important that we read it and make an informed decision as to whether we bring it into our home and put it into our bodies.

It’s good to understand all the information listed on a nutrition label, but this is what I tend to focus on.

my Top 5 Nutrients to focus on:

Serving size – Compare the serving size on the package to the amount that you actually eat. We often eat double the listed serving size, so this is top line information deserves your first look.

Fat – I don’t mind some fat in my diet, but if something seems ridiculously high for the portion size, I pass. For example, I was at Costco today and read the label for a package of sausages, which are generally high in fat, but this package listed 1 sausage at 31g of fat. Wow.

Sodium – Canned soups, condiments, snack crackers and processed meats are generally all high in sodium. Remember, adequate sodium intake is about 1500 mg for an adult, and shouldn’t exceed 2300mg/day. Source: Health Canada

Sugar – Once you start reading nutrition labels, and keeping an eye on added sugars, you’ll be surprised to see that sugar is in EVERYTHING! It’s so hard to get away from it, which probably explains why we love our sweet treats. Keep in mind that women should be eating an average of 25mg, or 6 teaspoons, of sugar per day – one can of soda exceeds this.  Source: American Heart Association

Fiber – The average adult should eat between 21 and 38 grams of fiber daily. Fibre helps lower cholesterol, improves bowel movements, helps control blood sugar levels, and are more filling so they help you achieve or maintain a healthy weight. Source:  Mayo Clinic

Additionally, reading nutrition labels can help you to: compare products more easily, manage special diets, increase or decrease your intake of a particular nutrient (for example, increase fibre, decrease saturated fat) and help you be more in control of what you’re eating on a daily basis.

Be an informed consumer and mindful of what you’re using to fuel your body. Remember the famous 80/20 rule, it applies to sustaining a healthy weight too. Be mindful of your decisions 80% of the time, and you’ll be healthier and happier for it.

Photo credit: Enokson via Foter.com / CC BY-NC

 

15 Comments

  1. katriza
    June 26, 2017

    Wow thank you so much for this! I took a nutrition class in High School that taught me all about how to read labels like these but I know that its an elective class and yet, so important! These are great things to point out on a label and I couldn’t agree with you more!

    Reply
    1. chantal
      June 28, 2017

      Katriza, I’m so glad you find this informative!

      Reply
  2. Indigenous Maverick
    June 27, 2017

    Great read, the old I’ve been getting the more I realize how important it is to read what we’re putting into our bady. Nowadays most things look delicious but are very harmful. Great article 😁

    Reply
    1. chantal
      June 28, 2017

      Glad you enjoyed the article 🙂

      Reply
  3. Susan Minich
    June 27, 2017

    Love this post!!! I didn’t really read labels until I realized that I had food intolerances. Then when I saw 20g of sugar in a container of soy yogurt – I flipped!! They taught my 1st grader to read her labels in health class. I love that now I can ask – how much sugar is in this?! And, she will put the junk back!

    Reply
    1. chantal
      June 28, 2017

      Food intolerances is what first got me started reading food labels, and as you found, what you read on there can be shocking! So great to hear you getting your child involved.

      Reply
  4. Cassie
    June 27, 2017

    Reading labels is so important but some companies are getting so tricky at how they are advertising on their food labels. My favourites are the mars bars or snickers bars marketed as just “100 calories” as though it’s a good thing!! LOL! This is an awesome post and I know it can be confusing so it’s helpful that you’ve broken it down for people here!

    Reply
    1. chantal
      June 28, 2017

      Oh yes, the ‘100 calories’ gimmick. It’s so hard to navigate the grocery stores these days when the marketers use tricks like this!

      Reply
  5. Susanne
    June 27, 2017

    Great information! When I start reading labels, my head starts swimming. Processed and packaged foods are packed full of horrible stuff! But eating fresh food all the time is so expensive…they get us coming and going.

    Reply
    1. chantal
      June 28, 2017

      It is confusing sometimes, which is why I wanted to share what I feel is important after spending so much time reading labels.

      Reply
  6. Mica
    June 28, 2017

    This is such good advice! 🙂

    Since I have a few food intolerances I need to read labels carefully – it’s interesting reading labels for myself I look at different things than if it’s something I’m getting for the boys – have to stay away from a lot of salt for them, but for me I don’t mind too much salt as long as it’s not got any triggering ingredients in it. There is a lot on the labels if we stop to read 🙂

    Reply
  7. Magdalena
    June 29, 2017

    Love this post! It’s so important to think about labels! I have three basic rules: the real food doesn’t need ingredients list; if there is sugar in between first three ingredients on the listI don’t buy it; if I can’t understand it I don’t eat it. 🙂

    Reply
    1. chantal
      June 29, 2017

      Those are great rules! I agree 100%

      Reply
  8. Lady anne
    June 30, 2017

    Very informative post. I don’t usually look at these things. I guess I have to be mindful with labels.

    Reply
    1. Regina
      July 1, 2017

      Even better is buying mainly things that don’t have a label – veggies and fruit 🙂

      Reply

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