Nutritional label instructions for use

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The nutrition label contains a lot of information, not always easy to understand. Here’s how to decode nutritional information written in small print.

The part

The first thing to look for is the reference portion, referred to as “Nutrient Value”. It gives the amount of fat, calories and nutrients it contains. Compare that portion to the one you plan to eat. The difference can be considerable, so make the calculation according to what you consume.

% of daily value

This percentage allows you to estimate the amount of nutrients in what you eat. Thus a daily value (DV) of 10% fiber means that a serving provides that percentage of the total amount of fiber needed in a day. In other words, 5% or less of DV is little, and 15% a lot. (Therefore prefer a value of 5% or less for sodium, but more than 15% for fiber, beneficial for health.) For carbohydrates, total lipids, saturated and trans fats, the DV is determined according to from a diet to 2,000 calories a day. That of other nutrients on the label applies to most consumers, regardless of their calorie needs.

Calories

In Canada, the label shows the caloric content and that of 13 essential nutrients, always in the same order. The number of calories indicated is that contained in the portion recommended for this food. Keeping in mind the rate of 2,000 calories a day, determine the reasonable number of servings you will consume.

Lipids (including saturated and trans fats)

In terms of food, not all fats are equal. Thus, omega 3 (or polyunsaturated), found in fish, and monounsaturated fats such as those contained in avocado, are considered good fats, with beneficial effects for the heart. Try to eat less saturated and trans fats because they can increase LDL levels, or “bad” blood cholesterol. According to current recommendations, make sure that saturated and trans fats do not represent more than 10% (or 20 g for a 2,000 calorie diet) of your daily fat intake. Do not consume more than 65 grams of fat per day.

Cholesterol

Although some people only (such as diabetics) need to monitor their daily cholesterol intake, the best way to control blood cholesterol is to eat foods that are low in saturated and trans fats. The maximum recommended daily intake of dietary cholesterol is 300 mg. “Cholesterol free” indicates that the reference portion contains less than 2 mg of cholesterol and is low in saturated and trans fats.

Sodium

Health Canada recommends limiting daily salt intake to 1,500 mg, just over half a teaspoon, and not to exceed 2,300 mg. To qualify for “no sodium,” a product must contain less than 5 mg of salt per serving. Avoid eating foods that contain more than 360 per serving.

Carbohydrates

The number here represents the sum of sugar, starch and fiber contained in a portion. If sugar and fiber content is to be reported under “carbohydrate”, food manufacturers are not required to specify the amount of starch. The latter, like sugar, provides the energy necessary for the proper functioning of the brain and muscles, while the fibers are considered insoluble carbohydrates, beneficial for health. Aim for a daily consumption of carbohydrates of about 300 g.

Fibers

In response to Health Canada’s recommendations, “fiber source” on a package means that the portion contains at least two grams of fiber; “High source of fiber” that it contains at least four grams; and “very high source of fiber” at least six grams of fiber per serving. Aim for a daily consumption of 25 g.

Sugars

The grams of sugar on the label combine refined sugars – that is, added sugars – and sugars found naturally in the food, such as fructose in fruits or lactose in milk. Whenever possible, choose products that contain natural sugars rather than added. No DV has yet been determined for sugars, but Health Canada proposes to set it at 100 g.

The proteins

Protein is a source of amino acids, essential for building and maintaining a healthy body. They also contribute to the feeling of satiety. An adult needs an average of 0.8 g of protein for every pound of his body weight; an adult of 68 kg will need about 55 g of protein per day.

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