In the quest to eat healthier foods, “read the nutrition label” has become a new mantra. It is possible to get all the information you need to make an informed buying decision, the key is getting past the marketing buzz and down to the facts found in the listing of ingredients.
Trans fat free
Trans fat free doesn’t necessarily mean that there are no trans fats in the product. If the product contains “hydrogenated” or “partially hydrogenated” oils, then there are trans fats. The amount can be determined by looking at the total fat content on the Nutrition Facts Label and subtracting the saturated, polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats that are indicated. If the numbers don’t add up to the total fat, the difference is the amount of trans fats in the food.
By Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) standards, a natural food or ingredient has nothing added to or removed from it except water. Some minimal processing such as grating, milling or blending is acceptable so the food can still be labelled as natural—for example, whole grain rolled oats.
Natural ingredients may include substances such as flavour components derived from natural foods, but if anything has been added to the substance, e.g. preservatives, then it can no longer be identified as a natural ingredient. Of note, those substances added to a flavour preparation do not have to be included as an ingredient on the product label.
Organic can apply to single ingredient foods such as apples or multi-ingredient foods if 95% or more of the ingredients are certified organic. The logo on the side of the page affirms that the product has met the requirements of the Canada Organic Regime.
If less than 95% of a product’s ingredients are organic, the whole product cannot be labelled as organic and it cannot bear the logo.
Whole grains are promoted far and wide and are a step up from refined ingredients in products such as cereals and crackers. It’s important to closely read the ingredients, as often you will find signs that the product is not as healthy as the manufacturer wants consumers to believe. Crackers will often include hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils (trans fats). Cereals may contain several different types of sugar (e.g. sugar, corn syrup, molasses, brown rice syrup, dextrose, etc.). Ingredients are listed in order of their weight, the heaviest shown first. Look past the first ingredient to see what else is in the product and, as a general rule of thumb, put it back on the shelf if there are unnatural or more than five ingredients.
There is so much that can be said about food packaging and labels, the above is just the tip of the iceberg. I will tell you more in future articles, but I hope that this gives you something to chew on in the meantime.