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Understanding food labels


Food labels are a good way to find out about the nutritional value of foods. They can help you make smart food choices.

You will find valuable nutrition information on pre-packaged foods if you read their labels, namely:

Food product labelling is regulated by Health Canada.

Nutrition facts table

Most packaged food products are required to have a nutrition facts table. It can help you make informed food choices by allowing you, for instance, to:

  • Compare two similar products easily
  • Learn how much nutrients and calories a food contains
  • Identify foods that have a little or a lot of a nutrient
  • Choose foods that are suitable for special diets, such as a diabetes diet

The nutrition facts table provides information about the food for a given serving size, in general the amount eaten for a single meal or snack. It shows the number of calories in a serving and the amount of the main nutrients it contains expressed in grams (g), milligrams (mg), micrograms (µg) or as a percent daily value.

The percent daily value is a guide to the amount of nutrients. A food serving has:

  • a little of a nutrient if its % daily value is 5% or less;
  • a lot of a nutrient if its % daily value is 15% or more.

By comparing the % daily value of the same serving size of two different food products, you can make a healthier food choice.

List of ingredients

Most pre-packaged products that contain more than one ingredient are required to have a list of ingredients. It shows all the ingredients a packaged food contains, in decreasing order of weight. This means that a food contains more of the ingredients found at the beginning of the list and less of the ingredients at the end of the list.

Following changes to the regulations, from now on all sugar-based ingredients will be grouped after the name Sugars in brackets, in decreasing order of weight. The food industry has until 2022 to comply with the requirements. To find out more, go to the Food labelling changes This hyperlink will open in a new window. page on the Government of Canada website.

The main allergens, sources of gluten and sulfites must be included in the list of ingredients on most packaged foods. They must appear at the end of the list after the title Contains.

Nutrition claims

A nutrition claim is a message that is found on a food package. Manufacturers generally use two types of messages or claims:

  • Nutrient content claims. They describe the nutritional value or nutritional benefit of a food. “A good source of iron” is an example of a nutrient content claim.
  • Health claims. They describe the beneficial effects of a food or certain types of food on a person's health. For example, “A healthy diet that contains a wide variety of fruits and vegetables can help reduce the risk of some types of cancer” is an example of a health claim.

Claims are subject to certain rules laid down by Health Canada. The purpose of the rules is to ensure messages are uniform and clear. Claims on food labels are optional.

Other types of claims have appeared in recent years on the packaging and price labels of foods sold in supermarkets. These claims are not developed by the government. They include claims such as “Good for your health” or “Healthy choice” as well as symbols or logos. Claims on food packaging can give you useful information about the product but be careful. Do not rely only on claims to make informed food choices.

Last update: October 15, 2019


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