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Deciphering Nutrition Labels

All you want is to be able to go to a grocery store, pick up some food, know exactly what’s in it, and go on your merry way.

But this can feel almost impossible with all the labels and claims and tables and lists and numbers overwhelming the surface area of every box.

How the heck are you supposed to know what’s “healthy” and what’s not?

In many countries around the world, including Canada, pre-packaged food products are required to have nutrition labels. Unfortunately, the very labels that are intended to help consumers make informed decisions can actually be a source of confusion and frustration.

I want to put an end to that! So today, I'm going to give you the tools you need to DECIPHER those nutrition labels.

Disclaimer: The below information is based on the Canadian food labels and regulations as of March 2021.

Nutrition labels on pre-packaged foods in Canada are required to have:

1. Nutrition Facts table

2. Ingredients list

They can also optionally have:

3. Nutrition claims

Let's take a closer look into the two required elements.

Nutrition Facts Table

Nutrition Facts tables are great because you can use it to really get to the bottom of a food’s nutritional value. Since the tables are standardized and regulated, you can easily compare different products in order to make the best purchasing decisions for you and your family.

By law, most packaged foods in Canada require a Nutrition Facts table with:

  • Serving size

  • Calories

  • % Daily Value (%DV)

…along with the following nutrients:

  • Fat

  • Saturated fat

  • Trans fat

  • Cholesterol

  • Sodium

  • Carbohydrate

  • Fibre

  • Sugars

  • Protein

  • Vitamin A

  • Vitamin C

  • Calcium

  • Iron

However, there are certain foods that do not need to have a Nutrition Facts table. These include (among others) fresh produce, raw meat/poultry/seafood, coffee/tea, alcoholic beverages, and spices.

Serving Size

When looking at the Nutrition Facts table, the first thing to check is the serving size. You need to use it to evaluate the nutritional content of the amount you actually consume.

A lot of food manufacturers are super sneaky with this. For example, let’s take a look at this decadent Chocolate Therapy ice cream from Ben & Jerry’s:

The serving size shown on the label is ½ cup. HALF A DAMN CUP. Who is eating a bowl of ice cream with only half a cup in it?!

My point is, if you're eating 1 cup of ice cream, or 1.5 cups, all the nutritional values on the table will have to be adjusted accordingly in order to know the nutritional content you personally are consuming.

Percent Daily Value (%DV)

%DV is really handy. It’s a simply guide that lets you know if the serving size has a little or a lot of a nutrient.

5% or less of a nutrient is considered a little 15% or more of a nutrient is considered a lot

We want more of some nutrients and less of others:

Let’s look at that ice cream example again. One serving gives us 20% of iron, which is great news, but it also gives us 23% of fat, which can be considered high for a single serving of one food.

Ingredients Lists

It is important and useful to check the Ingredients list to know if a food has a certain ingredient, so that you can avoid certain products in case of a food allergy or intolerance.

What's really useful too is that the ingredients are listed in order of weight. The list begins with the ingredient that weighs the most and ends with the ingredient that weighs the least.

Looking at the ice cream example again, we can see that fresh cream is first on the list and carrageenan (a thickening and emulsifying additive) is last on the list. This means that in a given serving of this product, fresh cream makes up the most weight and carrageenan makes up the least.

I hope this little guide was useful!! If you have any questions, please comment down below and I'm happy to answer :D


Stay nourished my friends,


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