Friday, August 20, 2010

Food Labelling


Nowadays, at least in Canada and the US, virtually every food that you purchase in a package comes with a great deal of information. As has been the case for many, many years, the packaging gives the list of ingredients used in the making of the product. The list is composed in descending order, with the most important ingredient coming first and so on. In recent years, we are now also provided with information on calories, portion size and food value percentages (vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates, fats, etc.). What a wealth of information!

I come by my label reading habit honestly. My mom always read labels to find out whether the food contained preservatives. She always wanted us to eat the least processed food possible. And she was right.

But now that we also have information on portions and food values, we can learn a lot more about the foods we eat.

Here are the main things I look for:

-Preservatives. As many have said before me, if you can't pronounce the word or if it's way too long to be a word that refers to a real foodstuff, try not to buy the product. I don't always succeed at this lofty goal, but I try.

-Sodium. It's amazing how much salt is put into the food we eat. It's also amazing the range of sodium levels you'll find for a given product. If your blood pressure is higher than normal, watch out for hidden sodium in processed foods.

-Trans fats. Many manufacturers have entirely eliminated trans fats from their food products. To quote Wikipedia:
Unlike other dietary fats, trans fats are not essential, and they do not promote good health.[1] The consumption of trans fats increases the risk of coronary heart disease[2] by raising levels of "bad" LDL cholesterol and lowering levels of "good" HDL cholesterol.[3] Health authorities worldwide recommend that consumption of trans fat be reduced to trace amounts. Trans fats from partially hydrogenated oils are more harmful than naturally occurring oils.
I just say no to trans fats.

(And, believe it or not...) Calories. Yes, I'm curious to see what the caloric content of the food is. It's just that calories are not the only element I take into consideration. Unfortunately, many so-called diet foods are high in sodium and packed full of preservatives. I would rather eat a smaller amount of a less processed product even if it's higher in calories. On a positive note, I am sometimes able to find products that are both lower in calories and in preservatives, trans fats, sodium, etc. That makes me really happy!

It's also important to remember that the nutrition facts label is based on the "needs" of someone who eats either 2,000 or 2,500 calories per day. On 2,000 calories per day, I'd be gaining a lot of weight, so I have to re-interpret the information. You'll also notice that the label I used as a sample in this post says that we shouldn't exceed 2,400 mg of sodium per day. Many nutritionists believe that this number should be more like 1,400 mg. Big difference.

So here's my question for you: do you read labels and do labels influence your food purchasing decisions?


  1. great post and way to BREAK IT ALL DOWN.
    I do read the labels and these days I try and just make it simple on myself as well.

    YES I avoid the transfats.
    YES I avoid the processed as much as possible.
    YES I try and stick to items with REALLLLY few ingredients on the label in general.


  2. Yes, I do read labels and yes they do influence my shopping decisions. I tend to lean towards fresh food and I do watch for preservatives and sodium and trans fats content in other food. Calories do have a place in my world, but if I like something and it's good for me but is higher in calories than a less than spectacular alternative, I have no problem buying it. I just eat less of it. Excellent post!

  3. Yep, I'm with you. I read food labels like I can't help myself. And, calories aren't the first thing I look for. If something is only 100 calories but contains 20 ingredients, we have a problem ... and I'm not going to eat it or suggest anyone else eat it.

  4. I also read labels. My particular red flag is the fat content. The "calories from fat" number has landed many packages back on the store shelf. It's usually an eye-popper.