Ask the Expert: Deciphering Product Labels

Q:  What do you need to look for when reading a nutrition label on packaged foods? 

 A:  The most important part of a food label is the ingredients list. Check the ingredients – do you recognize what they are? If it contains a lot of things you can’t pronounce or don’t know what they are, then you don’t want to eat it. “Modified” this or “concentrated” that are bad words in the food world. Always read the ingredients list first; then look at the nutrients table.

Some things to look at when reading a label: 

Cholesterol:  It has a bad reputation but it plays an important role in making hormones, vitamin D and bile for digestion. Only about 20% of our cholesterol comes from food; the rest we make in our bodies ourselves.  

Sodium: How much salt is in a serving? There is a lot of difference between bleached and processed sodium and natural sea salt, which has a broad range of minerals in it. The daily requirement for sodium has recently been changed from 1500mg to 2000mg or 1 tsp. Part of the reason it was raised is because it was felt that 1500mg per day was not feasible since the current average intake is 3400mg daily. Most sodium comes from processed foods so eating whole fresh foods like fruits and vegetables will automatically curb your salt intake. The amount of sodium in a 2 cup serving of Kraft Dinner is 1122mg. That’s 75% of the recommended daily intake of sodium! 

Total Carbohydrate: This explains the fibre and sugar content in a serving. Generally we want to avoid foods that are low in fibre and high in sugar, as these usually don’t have much in the way of nutritional value. If you add up the grams from sugar and the grams from fibre, they should equal the total amount of carbs. If not, what accounts for the extra? The total carbohydrate listed on the label includes all different types of carbs – starch, sugars, dietary fibre, sugar alcohols, etc. This is where the extra carbs come from.

Let’s talk a bit about the Health Check from the Heart and Stroke Foundation: Companies pay a licensing fee to be able to put the check mark on their labels. So if a company doesn’t want to pay they don’t get to use the checkmark and they could very well be a superior product from some of the ones that pay to have the checkmark. Some products can still contain up to 5% Trans Fats and meet criteria.

Try to avoid food products that make a health claim. Keep in mind: If a product needs to convince you it’s healthy, it’s probably not. 

Remember, don’t eat anything your great grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food and packaged and tinned foods did not exist back then and for the most part neither did obesity, diabetes and many other debilitating diseases.

Do you have a question?  Email me at and your question with my answer could get printed in this newsletter.

Alisa Davies is a Registered Holistic Nutritionist and Culinary Nutrition Expert and has been in the health and wellness field for many years.  She specializes in natural nutrition, Diabetes, Multiple Sclerosis and other autoimmune diseases, healthy eating habits for kids, weight loss, inflammatory conditions, custom eating plans and recipe development.  Contact Alisa at Movement Unlimited Inc. at 905-892-1239  or 905-964-2026 or email her at