Become a Label Reader

By Eve Lees

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Can packaged foods be healthy? Many are high in added salt, sugar, fat and chemical preservatives. Most also provide too many calories that are low in nutrients – otherwise known as “empty calories.” But eating healthy doesn’t mean you can’t make use of some convenient, packaged foods.

Washed and bagged salads, frozen fruit and vegetables, deli-roasted chicken and freshly prepared pasta sauce usually have few, if any, additives. The trick to eating packaged foods is to read the label and understand what you are reading. Here are a few tips:

1. The ingredients are listed in order of greatest amount. If items like sugars, fats, and white flour are at the top of the list, this may not be a desirable product for you.

2. To be considered low in fat, a product should have three or fewer grams of fat for each 100-calorie serving. For example, a food that has 150 calories per serving and provides 2.5 grams of fat per serving would be a very low-fat product. In Canada, the changes to the nutrition facts table now require a percent daily value (% DV) for fats, sugars and others. This will make it easier to see if a food is high in any particular ingredient. Any item with a 5% DV or less is considered low; a 15% DV or more is a lot!

3. To determine a low-sodium product, the DV should be less than 15% to be considered low sodium. If you’d prefer the lowest amount of sodium, the milligrams (mg) of sodium per serving should be equal to or less than the number of calories per serving.
4. To be considered a low-sugar product, the grams of sugar for each serving should be 5% DV or less. Keep in mind natural sugars in a product may increase the overall “sugar” rating of the product, even though there are no added refined sugars shown on the ingredient listing. If there are any added sugars, they will appear in the ingredient list. Added sugars (such as glucose-fructose, molasses, honey, etc.) will appear by weight from most to least.

5. To determine a high-fibre product, four grams of fibre per serving is excellent; two grams is adequate; less than one gram is low. But again, refer to the % DV listed on the label.

6. A final wise rule of thumb: Be cautious of any food if there are chemical names listed in the ingredients you cannot pronounce!

There’s nothing wrong with an occasional indulgence of a processed, refined food, but try to keep to a minimum food that is boxed, canned or prepared in any way. The more we tamper with our food, the less fibre and nutrition it provides. Our bodies are designed to process and refine a whole food *after* we eat it, not before!

Eve Lees is a Health Writer & Speaker and a Nutrition Counsellor. She was a Personal Trainer for over 30 years.

may 2017 INSPIRED senior living


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