Understanding your nutritional needs: Fast Facts
At IGA we understand that product choice is incredibly important to our customers and we always try to offer the greatest variety of options within our stores.
We also understand the importance of offering healthy choices and know that making the best dietary decisions can be confusing at times. When faced with a seemingly endless sea of labels containing percentages and hard-to-pronounce ingredients – it can seem overwhelming. To simplify the search for optimal healthy ingredients we’ve outlined some key points to make shopping a cinch.
Making sense of labels
Terminology used on packaging by manufacturers can be misleading at times. Manufacturers can generally choose what information or nutritional claim to include on products labelling – however, key nutritional terms must always be defined and are government regulated.
Serving Size – suggested portion for a single serving (listed as; per grams, milligrams or item contained in individually wrapped package). Example, Pop-Tarts are packaged as a set of two and list per serving amount based on single serving (one Pop-Tart of a package containing two).
Calories and Calories from Fat – dictates the number of calories per serving and energy contained in food. Nutrients that provide calories are fat, carbohydrates and protein. Keep in mind: the number of calories needed on a daily basis is calculated based on age, gender, body size and activity level.
Percentage of Daily Value (%DV) – describes the amount of each nutrient per serving (by weight and grams). This symbol (%DV) refers to the daily recommended allowance based on a 2,000-calorie diet and does not include nutrients such as protein or sugar – that don’t have a %DV. Simply put, the higher the %DV, the greater nutrient content the item contains overall.
Total Fat – Fats are listed as ‘Total Fat’ and broken down into two categories per serving: saturated fat (a fat found in food) and Trans fat (made from a chemical process). It is important to be aware of Trans fat consumption as it increases the risk of heart disease by increasing the ‘bad’ cholesterol levels.
Cholesterol – indicates the core nutrients per serving with the level of cholesterol increased depending on the level of saturated and Trans fats it contains. Cholesterol comes from animal-based foods and is not found in plant-based foods.
Sodium – a mineral found in table salt and food. Sodium is often added to foods during processing and Canadian’s ingest more than double (3400mg) the amount of sodium required per day (1500mg). Too much sodium in a diet can lead to higher blood pressure among other things.
Carbohydrates – An important nutrient for the body that plays a major role in providing energy. Found in a variety of foods, the main sources of carbohydrates are derived from sugar and fibre-rich foods.
Sugars – A type of carbohydrate, sugars are either naturally occurring (in fruit) or added to foods during processing. Foods listing a higher % of sugar often have fewer other nutrients, vitamins or minerals and instead contain higher calories.
Fibre – An important part of every healthy diet, this non-digestible type of carbohydrate is found in plant foods and helps provide lasting energy.
Protein – Just as carbohydrates and fat act as a source of energy: so does protein. Protein helps to build, maintain and repair body tissue and is found in dairy, eggs, fish, seafood, legumes, nuts, poultry and meat items (pork, lamb, and beef).
Vitamins & Minerals – These are listed by %DV and consumers should pay attention to vitamin A, C, iron and calcium percentages as these are type most lacking in every day diets.
By using the Nutrition Facts guide, you’ll have a better understanding of the overall nutritional value contained within a product.
But don’t stop there: read the listed ingredients as well.
Ingredients are often found at the bottom of the Nutritional Facts label and listed in order of appearance (greatest % to least) and weight (most to least). This translates to a greater amount of ingredients listed at the top are going to be more prevalent than those listed toward the bottom of the list. All manufacturers must list each ingredient on packaged goods and products, and this is an important factor when making healthy decisions.
As a general rule most nutritionists suggest that you try to steer-clear of products with a never-ending number of ingredients - or those listing trans fat, sodium, Monosodium glutamate (MSG) and other difficult to pronounce items at the top of the list. The simpler the ingredient list, the more likely that it is better for you.
For continued learning, visit Health Canada’s Food and Nutrition page.