How to Decode Food Labels

Nutritionist Tosca Reno warns us not to be fooled by food labels. These are her secrets to decoding what they're really telling you.

How to Decode Food Labels

How to Decode a Nutrition Label

Step 1: Look at the serving size

The serving size appears at the very top of the nutrition label. It's where people can be fooled, because food manufacturers shrink serving sizes to make the nutritional facts appear more favourable.

Step 2: Look at the calories

Calories are the second thing listed on the label. The number of calories on this label is calculated based on a single serving, so if you're eating more than, say, one third of a muffin (as most people do), be sure to multiply the calories by three. You'll similarly have to multiply the other nutritional data, paying particular attention to the fat and sodium numbers.

Step 3: Look at the percent daily value (% Daily Value)

Percent daily values puts nutrients on a scale from zero to 100 percent. This scale tells you the amount of nutrients in one serving of a packaged food. You can use this percentage to compare the nutrient content of different foods.

How to Decode Food Packaging


A sodium-free claim means the amount of food specified in the nutrition facts table contains less than 5 mg of sodium. "Sodium-free" is great, but be careful of products labeled "sodium reduced," as they could still contain high numbers of sodium.

Good source of fibre

"Source of fibre" means the food contains at least 2 grams of fibre in the amount of food specified in the nutrition facts table. "High source of fibre" means at least 4 grams of fibre. "Very high source of fibre" is at least 6 grams of fibre.

Most North Americans are chronically "under-fibered," so the more fibre, the better. Some excellent sources of fibre include oatmeal, flaxseed, wheat germ and bran.


Multigrain, simply put, means more than one grain. It's often seen on cereals, breads and crackers to make them sound healthy, but all it really means is there is more than one type of grain thrown in with sugars, bad fats and chemicals.

Look instead for foods that contain whole grains, indicated with terms like "whole oats" or "whole wheat." We want to incorporate more whole grains into our diets they contain more fiber and nutrients.

Trans-fat free

Many people think 'trans fat free' means you're in the clear, but what they may not realize is that trans fat is only one of the fats listed. Trans fats increase "bad" LDL cholesterol and increase beneficial HDL cholesterol. Make sure you also check the amount of saturated fat. Better yet, incorporate healthy fats into your diet like coconut, flaxseed, olive, avocado and pumpkin seed oils, and nut butters.


The term "light" is allowed only on foods that are either "reduced in fat" or "reduced in energy" (calories). "Light" can also be used to describe sensory characteristics of a food, meaning light tasting or light coloured. Therefore, the word "light" may give the wrong idea that what you're eating is healthy.

Don't pay too much attention to claims on the front of the package. It's the ingredients list and nutrition facts chart that tells the real story. Check the nutrition label for the amount of sodium and sugar.

No sugar added

No sugar added means there'ss no additional sugar added. Naturally occurring sugar is okay if it's eaten in its natural form like an orange or apple, but once turned into a juice we've lost all the important nutrients.

If you feel like having fruit juice, pour 1/3 cup of juice and fill the rest of the glass up with water. Just because there's no sugar added into your juice doesn't mean the product isn't high in natural sugars.


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