Low sodium, organic, whole wheat, healthy choice, light and natural.
Products jump out at us with these statements and branding showered all over them. This might make you think it’s really easy for us to find a “healthy” product on the shelves. But, you are mistaken my friend.
The Canadian government does have standards for food and beverages, and they are slowly improving, but don’t believe everything you see on the front of packaging.
The only way to truly know what is in the products you’re buying is to read your DAMN labels.
Nutrition labels by law have to list all ingredients and by the weight/portion of each ingredient in descending order. So if you read a protein bar has low sugar…and flip it around and read sugar, or brown rice syrup or some other bullshit “stand-in” word for sugar as the first ingredient, you know you’re in trouble.
Step away from the box.
To give you a full understanding: I’m breaking down the typical statements you would normally read on the front of food packaging, and explaining exactly how food can be labelled this way. This comes straight from the Canadian government website. Every country has different rules and regulations, if you are not living in Canada, this post can still open your eyes to possible packaging rules in you own country. And if so, I encourage you to look up the regulations! Or…just read your DAMN labels!
Alright. First I’m going to vent a little. We will be talking about the labels I fucking hate the most. Most of them are called “nutrient content claims”. Why do I hate them so much? Because it’s bullshit how the product container can state these flashy words or phrases to make you think there product is healthy…or healthier.
Bullshit Nutrient Content Claims
I think that’s a pretty excellent title for this section. I also like to call these the 25% bullshit section.
Reduced. Less, lower, lower in, fewer.
Definition: The food is processed or modified so that it contains at least 25% less of the nutrient when compared with a similar product.
To explain this, I’m going to tell you a little story. Once upon a time I was road tripping through California with my boyfriend and we stopped at a grocery store to pick up some road trip snacks / picnic stuff. I wanted veggies, and I wanted them bad. But I needed the ranch dip too. So here we are in the dressing aisle and were trying to pick the healthiest ranch we could find. My boyfriend reached for a nice looking label that said low-sodium and low-fat. Before we walked way I was like, kayyy lemme just compare this to some of the other bottles. I was SHOCKED to find another brands regular version actually had LESS sodium and fat in it.
Always check your damn labels.
Basically for a product to use these claims, the company just has to compare it to one and any old sorta-similar product. Meaning many other products could have much, much less of the sodium or fat or sugar and that ONE product could still label theirs as low because its lower than product B.
More, higher, higher in.
Definition: at least 25% more of a nutrient compared with a similar product.
Another shitty label to watch out for. Very similar to the example above. Don’t trust solely on these labels if you actually want something high in something.
Definition: 25% less of the nutrient when compared with a similar product.
Another lovely label I hate. Same as above.
Healthy-choice, healthy for you.
Definition: no one knows what the fuck this means.
Let me elaborate. The Canadian government calls these “general health claims”. And these “claims” are NOT developed by the government, but by third party corporations. These can be logos, specific words or symbols. The Canadian government does require these to be truthful and not misleading…but they recommend that you DO NOT rely on them.
Lovely. Lets move onto the claims that aren’t such shit.
Nutrient Content Claims That Don’t Suck as Much
These claims are a LOT more dependable. I still wouldn’t fully rely on any of these claims, but at least now you’ll know exactly what it means.
Free, No, 0, Without
Definition: so little of the amount it wont have an affect on your body. Contains less than 5 calories.
Low, little, few
Definition: a very small amount , 40 cals or less, 3g of fat or less, 140 mg or less of sodium.
You will notice some of these are specific with certain nutrients and minerals.
Definition: the food provides at least 50% less of the added nutrient. For example sodium or salt less than compared with similar product.
This one is similar to the 25% bullshit claims I talked about earlier. But at least this one is a bit more of a severe difference.
No added, without added
Definition: the food has none of the nutrient added to it (YAS!!).
An example is if the product states no added sugar: it cannot contain any ingredients that contain added sugar, ingredients that contain sugars that functionally substitute for added sugars (remember that brown rice syrup?).
Good source of
Definition: at least 15% of the daily recommended intake. For vitamins and minerals. Exception: 30% for vitamin C.
I’m not crazy about this one…is 15% really a good source? It’s up to you.
Excellent source, very high, very high in, very high source, rich, rich in
Definition: the food provides a large amount of the nutrient. Example: 6 grams of fibre. Exception: at least 25% of recommended daily intake, 50% for vitamin C.
Its definitely better to go with labels with this content claim as opposed to “good source of”.
Lets move on to everyone’s favourite…organic. The labelling for organic food in Canada was/is fucking awful.
But very recently…and by recently, I mean January 15, 2019, the Safe Food for Canadians Regulations (SFCR) has come into force. But don’t expect chnges right away. Certain requirements imposed by the SFCR are being phased in over the following 12 to 30 months.
30 months is 2.5 years…id suggest reading your nutrition labels at least for the next three years before you depend on these regulations. But lets go over them.
The Canadian Organic Label
Products with this label must
- have 95% or more organic content.
- Can be labelled as organic
Contains X% organic ingredients
- Multi-ingredient food with less than 95% to 70% organic content
Multi-ingredient food with less than 70% organic content
- They cannot list their product as organic – ie. No claims of organic content on the product packaging.
- Can only identify organic content in the list of ingredients
Genetically Engineered Food & Natural
Genetically Engineered Food
Ever wonder if the tomato you bought is genetically engineered? Me too! But, we’ll never fucking know.
Genetically engineered food is not required to be labelled as such. It is only voluntary. Unfortunately I don’t see this changing any time soon. Here’s to hoping we are not ingesting a ton of this food.
I’m going to throw at you a direct quote from the Canada.ca website, and we’ll try to dissect the meaning:
“Substances that impart flavours that have been derived from a plant or animal source may be claimed to be “natural”. As well, any additive, such as preservatives and solvents added to a flavour preparation to have a technological effect solely on the flavour, does not modify the “natural” status of the flavouring material itself.”
Basically, a product can be labelled as natural even if there are preservatives or solvents are added. As long as it doesn’t alter the “natural” status of the product…whatever that means.
These one straight up confuse me, so maybe someone can shed some light on it for me.
Definition: contains 10% of fat or less, for meat or poultry that has not been ground.
Definition: contains 7.5% of fat or less, for meat or poultry that has not been ground.
WTF. I swear I don’t remember ever seeing lean or extra-lean on meat that is not ground. I’m hoping what they mean is that’s the percentage of fat before it was ground up? But…I mean…wouldn’t it be the same? Anyways I’m going with that unless I find out that’s not true. If that’s the case, I’m going to be very wary of buying any ground meat again.
To recap though…
Lean = 10%
Extra-Lean = 7.5%
Now you know.
Just as in any kind of marketing; flashy words, claims and phrases can be used on product labelling to make food seem to be something its not. There are also products that stay true to their nutrition claims front and back.
It is so important to read your nutrition labels to ensure you are buying a food or product that is right for you. Do not always rely on the content claims on the package.
For more information about nutrition labelling in Canada, check out Canada.ca.