How to Read Nutrition Fact Tables

Do you ever stop to look at the Nutrition Facts table when you’re at the grocery store?

Do they help you decide which foods to buy or not?

Do these numbers even make sense?

Reading nutrition labels can feel confusing and overwhelming at first, but the important thing to remember is that the information provided gives us the power to understand and make informed choices about the foods and drinks we consume.

Once you know how to read the labels, you will be given the ability to take control of your health, and the more practice you get, the better you can become in using them as a tool to plan a healthy and well-balanced lifestyle.

The Nutrition Facts table is on the side of most packaged foods. It’s often found close to the ingredients list. To help you decode the table, I have created a four-step approach:

Step 1: Serving Size

The most important part of the Nutrition Facts table is to note the serving size. Manufacturers often strategically choose the serving size to make the rest of the table look appealing. Small serving = small calories/fat/carbs. So, it's tricky.

All the information in the table rests on the amount chosen as the serving size. And, since every manufacturer chooses their own, it’s often difficult to compare two products.

In Canada, in the next few years (between 2017-2022), serving sizes will be more consistent between similar foods. This will make it easier to compare foods. The new labels will also have more realistic serving sizes to reflect the amount that people eat in one sitting, and not be artificially small.

Let’s use an example - Raw, unsalted almonds (keep reading for a yummy recipe below).

As you can see, right under the Nutrition Facts header is the serving size. That is a ¼ cup or 40 g. This means that all the numbers underneath it are based on this amount. 

EXPERIMENT: Try using a measuring cup to see exactly how much of a certain food equals one serving. You may be surprised at how small it is (imagine a ¼ cup of almonds). 

Step 2: % Daily Value

The % Daily Value (%DV) is based on the recommended daily amount of each nutrient the average adult needs. Ideally, you will get 100% DV for each nutrient every day. This is added up based on all of the foods and beverages you have throughout the day.

NOTE: Not every nutrient has a %DV. You can see it's missing for things like cholesterol, sugar, and protein. This is because there isn't an agreed "official" %DV for that nutrient. The good news is that the new Nutrition Facts tables will include a %DV for sugar. Keep your eyes out for that. 

As you start to become familiar with navigating the Nutrition Facts table, it’s important to remember is that the %DV is should be used as a guideline, not a rigid rule. You don’t need to add all of your %DV up for everything you eat all day. Instead, think of anything 5% or less to be a little; and, anything 15% or more to be a lot.

Step 3: Middle of the table (e.g. Calories, fat, cholesterol, sodium, potassium, carbohydrates, and protein)

Calories are pretty straight forward. Here, a ¼ cup (40 g) of almonds has 230 calories.

Fat is bolded for a reason. That 20 g of fat (31% DV) is total fat. That includes the non-bolded items underneath it. Here, 20 g of total fat includes 1.5 g saturated fat, (20 g - 1.5 g = 18.5 g) unsaturated fat, and 0 g trans fat. (Yes, unsaturated fats including mono- and poly-unsaturated are not on the label, so you need to do a quick subtraction).

Cholesterol, sodium, and potassium are all measured in mg. Ideally, aim for around 100% of potassium and sodium each day. It's easy to overdo sodium, especially if you’re regularly eating pre-made, restaurant foods, or canned foods where sodium is used as a preservative. Keep an eye on this number if sodium can be a problem for you (e.g. if your doctor mentioned it, if you have high blood pressure or kidney problems, etc.).

Carbohydrate, like fat, is bolded because it is total carbohydrates. It includes the non-bolded items underneath it like fiber, sugar, and starch (not shown). Here, 40 g of almonds contain 9 g of carbohydrates; that 5 g are all fiber. And as you can see, 5 g of fiber is 20% of your daily value for fiber.

Proteins, like calories, are pretty straight forward as well. Here, a ¼ cup (40 g) of almonds contains 8 g of protein.

Step 4: Bottom of the table (e.g. vitamins & minerals)

The vitamins and minerals listed at the bottom of the table are also straightforward. The new labels will list potassium, calcium, and iron. Yes, potassium will drop from the middle of the table to the bottom, and both vitamins A & C will become optional.

Manufacturers can add other vitamins and minerals to the bottom of their Nutrition Facts table (this is optional). And you'll notice that some foods contain a lot more vitamins and minerals than others do.

Now it’s your turn…

Next time you go to the grocery store, I encourage you to check out the Nutrition Facts table. It may take you a little longer to get through the aisles, but eventually you will have a better idea of what products to buy based on your own nutritional needs and preferences. Plus, investing the extra time now is an investment in your overall health and well-being for the future!

I hope you found this four-step approach to navigating Nutrition Facts Tables was helpful and that you start applying it to your grocery shopping routine.

Do you have questions about it? Have you seen the new labels with a %DV for sugar? If so, leave me a comment below.

Libido Boosting Maca Cacao Balls

Recipe from Caylicious

  • 1 cup almond flour OR you can use whole almonds.

  • 1 cup raw walnuts

  • 4 medjool dates, dried

  • 3 tbsps vanilla protein powder(Genuine Health)

  • 1 tbsp maca powder

  • 4 tbsps raw cacao powder

  • 2 tbsps flax seeds

  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

  • 4 tbsps almond milk

  • pinch of pink salt to taste

Optional Toppings

  • unsweetened coconut flakes

  • maca powder

  • chopped pumpkin seeds

  • raw cacao powder

Instructions

  1. Add all of the ingredients except for the dates and almond milk in the food processor until a coarse meal is formed.  

  2. Roughly chop the dates and add them to the food processor. Pulse until well combined. Then slowly add the almond milk and blend until a dough-like ball is formed. If your mixture looks too wet, add more powder and if its too dry add more almond milk. 

  3. Once your dough has formed, begin rolling into desired protein ball size. I measured about 1-2 tablespoons.  

  4. Leave as is or roll the protein balls into suggested toppings. Transfer them to an air-tight container and store them in the fridge. I prefer to let mine cool before eating them but to each their own! Enjoy

References:

http://www.healthycanadians.gc.ca/eating-nutrition/label-etiquetage/changes-modifications-eng.php

https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/understanding-food-labels/percent-daily-value.html

http://www.healthycanadians.gc.ca/eating-nutrition/label-etiquetage/regulatory-guidance-directives-reglementaires/daily-values-valeurs-quotidiennes/guide-eng.php#p1