How to Read Food Labels

What's on your food and what it means

How to Read Food LabelsGrocery shelves are packed, and manufacturers are doing everything they can to get your attention. Busy consumers look for visual clues to help them make decisions fast. But beware: some labels are more meaningful than others.

“Product of Canada” or “Made in Canada”

New Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) guidelines came into effect on December 31, 2008 and they dictate that something is a product of Canada if “all or virtually all of the significant ingredients, components, processing and labour used in the food product” are Canadian. A product is made in Canada if it is manufactured or processed in Canada, but the ingredients may be foreign, domestic, or a mix of both.

“Natural” or “All Natural”

Under the broadly defined guidelines from Health Canada and the CFIA, the term “natural” refers to a product that has not been submitted to processes that have significantly altered its original physical, chemical or biological state. A “natural” food is not expected to contain any added vitamins or mineral nutrients (unless derived from a natural source), artificial flavouring agents or food additives.

“Light” or “Lite”

Sometimes this means that foods are either “reduced in fat” or “reduced in calories.” But it can also mean
light in colour, just to confuse us a little more.

“Canada Organic” and “Biologique Canada” logos

A trustworthy certification from the Canadian government that a food product contains at least 95 percent organic ingredients. Look for the USDA Organic logo on imported products to be certain they are truly organic.

“Free-range” or “free-roaming”

This label on eggs, chicken and other meat gives consumers the impression that the animal spent a good portion of its day frolicking outdoors. This may not be the case. The Chicken Farmers of Canada explain that “the term has not been legally defined in Canada or the U.S.”

“Trans fat-free”

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency allows foods that contain less than 0.2 g per serving to be declared trans fat-free. Look for ingredients such as hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated on the labels. If they are there, you can be certain the product is not completely trans fat-free.

“Low in fat”

The food contains 3 g or less of fat per serving, whereas “25 percent lower in fat” specifically applies when compared to the original product. It is not an endorsement of how healthy that particular fat is for you. A food can also be labelled “cholesterol-free,” but this doesn’t mean that it is necessarily low in total fat, only that it contains less than 2 mg cholesterol and is low in saturated fat.

“Source of omega-3 or omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids”

The food contains 0.3 g or more of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids per serving or contains 2 g or more of omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids per serving. (See opposite page for daily recommended intake of omega-3 fats.)

“Source of fibre”

The food needs to have only 2 g of fibre per serving. Consider that Health Canada recommends 25 to 38 g of fibre a day. Look for labels indicating that a food is “high” (contains 4 g per serving) or “very high in fibre” (contains 6 g per serving).

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