1. The Percent Daily Value (% DV) is not individualized
I’m starting off with this point because I think it is the most misunderstood aspect of Canada’s nutrition label. The Percent Daily Value is based on a single reference amount for all people over 2 years of age. For example, the reference level for iron is 14 mg, and this applies to everyone over 2 years of age, regardless of their life stage or gender.
However, people of different age groups and genders have different requirements of different nutrients. So how can the percent daily value for iron apply to both a 9 year old boy and a 30 year old woman? It can’t! A 9 year old boy needs only 8 mg, whereas a 30 year old woman needs 18 mg. So if a food says that it supplies 25% DV for iron, in reality it actually meets 44% of the young boy’s needs and 19% of the woman’s needs.
2. The Percent Daily Value (% DV) may be outdated
There is always new research coming out on food and nutrition. As a result, nutrition guidelines and tools are always going to be slightly behind the times. An example of this is the % Daily Value for vitamin D, which is based on an amount of 200 IU. This value comes from the Dietary Reference Intakes (DRIs) set in 1997; however the DRIs for vitamin D were updated in 2010.
To explain this further: the nutrition label for 1 cup of skim milk states that it gives you 45% DV for vitamin D, but this is only 45% of 200 IU. Based on the updated DRIs, 1 cup of milk actually only meets 15% of vitamin D needs for most people!
3. “Sugars” refers to both added sugars and sugars naturally found in the food
We all know that added sugar is something that we should avoid in foods. But some foods like dairy, fruits, and vegetables contain naturally occurring sugars that do not need to be avoided. Unfortunately “sugar” on the nutrition label (found beneath “Carbohydrates”) refers to both added sugars and naturally occurring sugars, which makes it difficult to understand which foods contain added sugars.
For example, a 3/4 cup serving of plain 2% yogurt may have between 5-8 grams or more of sugar on its label. But all of this comes from lactose, a naturally occurring sugar found in dairy products. As another example, a 1/2 cup serving of unsweetened applesauce will have around 8 grams of sugar on its label. The applesauce contains no added sugar, but these 8 grams come from the glucose and fructose in the apples.
4. 0 mg of trans fat doesn’t necessarily mean the food has no trans fats
If a food contains less than 0.2 mg of trans fats per serving and also meets the criteria for calling itself “low in saturated fats”, it can say that it contains 0 mg of trans fats on the label. I have a problem with this for two reasons:
- Trans fats of any amount are unhealthy, so consumers deserve to know if their product contains any amount
- If someone eats more than the stated serving size of a product containing trans fats (even though the label says 0 mg), they could end up eating a significant amount.
The best way to find out if a product contains trans fat is to check the ingredients list for “hydrogenated” or “partially hydrogenated” oils and fats. If you see these listed as an ingredient, put it back on the shelf! For example, Pillsbury biscuits have 0 g of trans fat per biscuit on their label; however there is hydrogenated fat on its ingredient list, so it may have up to 0.19 g of trans fat per biscuit. If I ate three biscuits in a sitting, I could be eating almost 0.6 g of trans fat!
The bottom line
Nutrition labels can be confusing and may not always be telling the whole story. The good news is that Canada’s nutrition label is undergoing some proposed changes that will make it easier to read and more transparent. I’ll be talking about some of these proposed changes in an upcoming blog post!