Chapter 1. Introduction to Nutrition
The Labels on Your Food
Understanding the significance of dietary guidelines and how to use DRIs in planning your nutrient intakes can make you better equipped to select the right foods the next time you go to the supermarket.
In Canada, mandatory labeling came into effect in 2005. As a result, all packaged foods sold in Canada must have nutrition labels that accurately reflect the contents of the food products. There are several mandated nutrients and some optional ones that manufacturers or packagers include.
Almost all pre-packaged foods are required to have a Nutrition Facts label. This label reflects scientific information and makes it easier for consumers to make informed food choices. The label must include four components:
- Ingredient List: The ingredients must be listed by their common names, in descending order by weight. Ingredient lists are mandatory on all food labels.
- Nutrition Facts Table: The facts table has a consistent forma and provides information on calories and a core list of 13 ingredients: fat, saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, sodium, carbohydrate, fibre, sugars, protein, vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium and iron. Food manufacturers may include other nutrients but they must follow a template. More information on the Nutrition Facts Table in the section below.
- Nutrient Content Claims: These are statements based on current scientific evidence that can be made when the product meets a certain criteria. Nutrient content claims provide information about the amount of one specific nutrient in a food, such as fiber or fat. Examples of such claims include: “source of omega-3 polyunsaturates” or “25% less sodium”. While nutrient content claims are optional, they must meet government regulations before appearing on a package.
- Diet-Related Health Claims: Health claims are statements that link a food or food component to a reduced risk of a disease or to a condition. To use a specific health claim, the food must meet specific content criteria. For example, to say a food may lower the risk of hypertension, it must be low in sodium and contain at least 350mg of potassium.
Reading the Label
The first part of the Nutrition Facts panel gives you information on the serving size. For example, a label on a box of crackers might tell you that twenty crackers equals one serving. All other values listed thereafter, from the calories to the dietary fiber, are based on this one serving. On the panel, the serving size is followed by the number of calories and then a list of selected nutrients. You will also see “Percent Daily Value” on the far right-hand side. This helps you determine if the food is a good source of a particular nutrient or not. The Daily Value (DV) represents the recommended amount of a given nutrient based on the RDI of that nutrient in a 2,000-kilocalorie diet. The percentage of Daily Value (percent DV) represents the proportion of the total daily recommended amount that you will get from one serving of the food. For example, in the older food label in Figure 1.2 “Reading a Nutrition Label,” the percent DV of calcium for one serving of macaroni-and-cheese is 20 percent, which means that one serving of macaroni and cheese provides 20 percent of the daily recommended calcium intake. Since the DV for calcium is 1,000 milligrams, the food producer determined the percent DV for calcium by taking the calcium content in milligrams in each serving, and dividing it by 1,000 milligrams, and then multiplying it by 100 to get it into percentage format. Whether you consume 2,000 calories per day or not you can still use the percent DV as a target reference.
Generally, a percent DV of 5 is considered low and a percent DV of 20 is considered high. This means, as a general rule, for fat, saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, or sodium, look for foods with a low percent DV. Alternatively, when concentrating on essential mineral or vitamin intake, look for a high percent DV. To figure out your fat allowance remaining for the day after consuming one serving of macaroni-and-cheese, look at the percent DV for fat, which is 18 percent, and subtract it from 100 percent. To know this amount in grams of fat, read the footnote of the food label to find that the recommended maximum amount of fat grams to consume per day for a 2,000 kilocalories per day diet is 65 grams. Eighteen percent of sixty-five equals about 12 grams. This means that 53 grams of fat are remaining in your fat allowance. Remember, to have a healthy diet the recommendation is to eat less than this amount of fat grams per day, especially if you want to lose weight.
Figure 1.2 Reading a Nutrition Label
Source: How to Understand and Use the Nutrition Facts Panel. FDA. http://www.fda.gov/food/labelingnutrition/consumerinformation/ucm078889.htm#dvs. Updated February 15, 2012. Accessed November 22, 2017.
Of course, this is a lot of information to put on a label and some products are too small to accommodate it all. In the case of small packages, such as small containers of yogurt, candy, or fruit bars, permission has been granted to use an abbreviated version of the Nutrition Facts panel. To learn additional details about all of the information contained within the Nutrition Facts panel, see the following website: https://www.canada.ca/content/dam/canada/health-canada/migration/healthy-canadians/alt/pdf/publications/eating-nutrition/label-etiquetage/fact-fiche-eng.pdf
Figure 1.3 Food Serving Sizes
The Nutrition Facts panel provides a wealth of information about the nutritional content of the product. The information also allows shoppers to compare products. Because the serving sizes are included on the label, you can see how much of each nutrient is in each serving to make the comparisons. Knowing how to read the label is important because of the way some foods are presented. For example, a bag of peanuts at the grocery store may seem like a healthy snack to eat on the way to class. But have a look at that label. Does it contain one serving, or multiple servings? Unless you are buying the individual serving packages, chances are the bag you picked up is at least eight servings, if not more.
Nutrient Content Claims on Labels
In addition to mandating nutrients and ingredients that must appear on food labels, any nutrient content claims must meet certain requirements. For example, a manufacturer cannot claim that a food is fat-free or low-fat if it is not, in reality, fat-free or low-fat. Low-fat indicates that the product has three or fewer grams of fat; low salt indicates there are fewer than 140 milligrams of sodium, and low-cholesterol indicates there are fewer than 20 milligrams of cholesterol and two grams of saturated fat. See Table 1.5 “Common Label Terms Defined” for some examples.
Table 1.5 Common Label Terms Defined
|Lean||Fewer than a set amount of grams of fat for that particular cut of meat|
|High||Contains more than 20% of the nutrient’s DV|
|Good source||Contains 10 to 19% of nutrient’s DV|
|Light/lite||Contains ⅓ fewer calories or 50% less fat; if more than half of calories come from fat, then fat content must be reduced by 50% or more|
|Organic||Contains 95% organic ingredients|
When Enough Is Enough
Estimating Portion Size
Have you ever heard the expression, “Your eyes were bigger than your stomach?” This means that you thought you wanted a lot more food than you could actually eat. Amounts of food can be deceiving to the eye, especially if you have nothing to compare them to. It is very easy to heap a pile of mashed potatoes on your plate, particularly if it is a big plate, and not realize that you have just helped yourself to three portions instead of one.
In many restaurants and eating establishments, portion sizes have increased and consequently the typical meal contains more calories than it used to. In addition, our sedentary lives make it difficult to expend enough calories during normal daily activities. In fact, more than one-third of adults are not physically active at all.
Figure 1.4 A Comparison of Serving Sizes
As food sizes and servings increase it is important to limit the portions of food consumed on a regular basis. Dietitians have come up with some good hints to help people tell how large a portion of food they really have. Some suggest using common items such as a deck of cards while others advocate using your hand as a measuring rule.
Table 1.6 Determining Food Portions
|Food Product||Amount||Object Comparison||Hand Comparison|
|Pasta, rice||½ c.||Tennis ball||Cupped hand|
|Fresh vegetables||1 c.||Baseball|
|Cooked vegetables||½ c.||Cupped hand|
|Meat, poultry, fish||3 oz.||Deck of cards||Palm of your hand|
|Milk or other beverages||1 c.||Fist|
|Salad dressing||1 Tbsp.||Thumb|
|Oil||1 tsp.||Thumb tip|
If you wait many hours between meals, there is a good chance you will overeat. To refrain from overeating try consuming small meals at frequent intervals throughout the day as opposed to two or three large meals. Eat until you are satisfied, not until you feel “stuffed.” Eating slowly and savoring your food allows you to both enjoy what you eat and have time to realize that you are full before you get overfull. Your stomach is about the size of your fist but it expands if you eat excessive amounts of food at one sitting. Eating smaller meals will diminish the size of your appetite over time so you will feel satisfied with smaller amounts of food.