Nutritional Labels and More

Dietary Food Guides offer general recommendations surrounding what individuals should eat to achieve and maintain a healthy balance. Nutritional labels help provide more detail tied to these suggestions. Thus, it is essential for people to be able to read and understand them. Labels of this kind are required by law, and in relation to Canada’s Food Guide, they use serving sizes that can vary between different food items. Checking what serving sizes are chosen for the products one consumes is important, partly because they might be larger or smaller than the amount regularly eaten during a meal or snack. Each nutritional label must present the following minimum components: the number associated with calories, fat (both saturated and trans), cholesterol, sodium, carbohydrates (including fibre and sugar), protein, vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium, and iron.

Apart from nutritional labels, other types of labels that appear on certain food packages (most often the front) commonly refer to the calorie or fat content of the item. For example, claims such as “fat-free”, “no fat”, “zero fat”, “low in fat”, “reduced-fat”, “lower fat”, “less fat”, or “100% fat-free” are prevalent. Although these phrases have clear definitions, they may be misleading to consumers regarding their interpretation of them. Terms like “fat-free”, “no fat”, and “zero fat” do not translate to the product being without fat entirely, rather, it would contain less than 0.5 grams of this macronutrient per serving. In addition, restrictions are in place concerning which kinds of products are permitted to use the above labels. For instance, although apples fall under the category of “fat-free”, they cannot be marketed as such. This is because they are not modified to become lower in fat. Many definitions exist when it comes to labels on food overall. The following is a look at some common ones, along with their meanings:

  • Calorie-free = less than 5 kcal (kilocalories) per serving
  • Low in Calories = 40 kcal or less per serving (for prepackaged meals – 120 kcal or less per 100 grams)
  • Lower in Calories / Light = at minimum 25% less energy (compared to original product)
  • Fat-free / No fat / Zero fat = less than 0.5 grams of fat per serving
  • Low in fat = 3 grams or less of fat per serving (for prepackaged meals – 30% or less of the total energy is attributed to fat)
  • Reduced in fat / Lower fat / Less fat = at minimum 25% less fat than the original product
  • 100% fat-free = less than 0.5 grams of fat per 100 grams + contains no added fat

Organic Food and Beverages

The term “organic” appears on a number of consumer products, and the Canadian government has produced legislature in terms of its use. Below are select statements from the mentioned document (last modified in 2019):

“Only products with organic content that is greater than or equal to 95% may be labeled or advertised as ‘organic’ or bear the organic logo. Terms such as ‘organically grown’, ‘organically raised’, ‘organically produced’, or similar words, abbreviations of, symbols for, and phonetic renderings of these words are considered the same as ‘organic’ claims and must meet the same requirements.”

“For multi-ingredient products, the organic contents must be identified as organic in the list of ingredients.”

“Claims indicating ‘X% organic ingredients’ where X is anywhere from 95-100% are permitted. However, the claim ‘organic’ is encouraged as all products with 95% and over organic content may use this claim. [Products containing between 70-<95% organic content] may use the declaration ‘contains X% organic ingredients’ on the label or in advertising, specifying the percentage of organic ingredients. These products may not use the organic logo or the claim ‘organic’.”

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According to Choose Canada Organic, this label refers to the manner in which agricultural products are grown and processed. Organic food and beverages are made using farming methods that are friendly to both environments and animals. Certification of this type indicates to consumers that each step of the supply chain has protected and maintained the organic status, beginning on the farm.

The methods of farming in this way offer the best current model for supporting climate-friendly food production. It stores higher amounts of carbon in the soil, promotes wildlife diversity, limits pest outbreaks, protects against soil erosion, helps prevent water from being contaminated, and uses much less energy than alternate farming methods. Organic agriculture is a response to different pollution factors, however, this does not mean that organic items will always be 100% free of chemical residues. This term also represents the actions of rotating crops, building healthy soil for the long-term, treating animals well, and a collection of other measures.

For more information (including recipes!), one can explore the Choose Canada Organic website.