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The Truth About Nutrition Claims On Packaged Foods

04/21/2017 05:03 EDT | Updated 04/21/2017 05:03 EDT

Written by Andrea Ho, a registered dietitian with the Schulich Heart Program at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre.

You've probably noticed nutrition claims on packaged foods when you've gone grocery shopping. Boxes, cartons, cans and bags filled with some of our favourite foods all seem to be screaming "fat free," "low sodium," or "light." These are Nutrient Content Claims: they describe the level of a nutrient or energy in food, and are regulated (for products sold in Canada) by Health Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

Unlike the Nutrition Facts table and the ingredients list, using these claims on packaged foods is optional. Some may even be deceiving.

grocery shiopp

Here are some common nutrient content claims and what they actually mean:

"Light"

The "Light" claim doesn't necessarily mean the food is healthy. "Light" may simply mean that the product is light in colour, taste, or flavour. But, more often than not, this nutrient content claim means the product has 25 per cent fewer calories or 25 per cent less fat than a similar product per serving. While this reasoning does imply the product is healthier for you, if the original or previous product is super high in calories or fat, it doesn't mean this version is a healthy option.

"Trans Fat Free" or "Zero Trans Fat"

These products contain 0.2 grams of trans fat or less per serving, which means it may still contain a trace amount of trans fat. It's important for your heart health to avoid trans fat completely, so look at the Nutrition Facts table to see if the product actually has zero grams of trans fat. You'll also want to check the ingredients list to make sure the product doesn't contain any ingredients that are sources of trans fat, like shortening or partially hydrogenated oil.

"Low Fat"

"Low Fat" products have less than three grams of fat per serving, which is great! But, buyers beware: some low fat products actually have higher amounts of sodium and/or sugar than the regular product to compensate for taste. Use the Nutrition Facts table to help you choose a product that is low in fat, sodium, and sugar.

"Source of Fibre"

To claim a product is a "Source of Fibre," the product must have 2 grams of fibre or less per serving, which isn't much. To help you increase your fibre intake, choose a product that has the claim "High in Fibre," meaning that it has 4 grams of fibre or more per serving.

food label

"Low Sodium"

"Low Sodium" products have 140 milligrams of sodium or less per serving. Choose products that claim "No Sodium" (which actually means less than 5 milligrams of sodium per serving) or "No Added Salt" if you really want to reduce your sodium intake.

"Sugar Free" or "No Sugar"

These products have less than 0.5 grams of sugar per serving. But some low sugar products may in fact have higher amounts of fat to compensate for taste. To help you reduce your sugar intake as much as possible, choose a product that has the claim "No Added Sugar," which means that it doesn't contain any added sugars or any sugars that functionally substitute for added sugars like molasses, fruit juice, honey, and maple syrup.

Bottom Line: Don't just look at the nutrition claims

Instead of relying solely on the nutrient content claims, use them in conjunction with the Nutrition Facts table and the ingredients list to help you make informed and healthy food choices.

Read more healthy eating information from Sunnybrook experts at health.sunnybrook.ca

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