You may not be able to judge a book by its cover, but you should judge food by its label.
Someone should have told that to four American mothers who were shocked to discover that the Nutella they were feeding their children wasn’t a nutritious and healthy breakfast choice, but instead a sugar-infused chocolate spread with 200 calories, 11 grams of fats and 21 grams of sugar in two tablespoons.
Call them naïve, but they managed to win their case and the makers of Nutella were forced to settle. According to a recent Globe and Mail article, they will have to pay approximately $3 million to consumers who felt mislead by advertisements, which marketed the product as part of a balanced breakfast.
On the flip side, however, manufacturers want to sell their product, even if that means introducing a misleading ad campaign to up sales, like saying Nutella provides energy, which, put simply is just calories, or food energy, explains Anne Zok, nutrition manager at Western.
“Yes their ads are deceiving, but not dishonest,” she says. “I think we, as consumers, fall prey to this type of vague advertising.”
Zok goes on to explain consumers should ignore vague advertising buzz words like ‘fresh’ and ‘wholesome’ and instead use common sense and judge products based on ingredients and nutritional value. Simply put, judge the product based on what is written on the back, not the front.
Reading the nutritional value of food doesn’t have to be difficult if you understand how to read the labels. Zok explains we should get past simply reading the number of calories and instead use the per cent daily value number to judge the product’s concentration of any given nutrient.
“A daily value less than five per cent means the product contains little of that nutrient and a daily value greater than 15 per cent is considered a high amount.”
And certain nutrients should be of more consideration than others, depending on the type of product. For example, grain products such as breads, cereals, and crackers, should be judged based on their fibre content—at least two grams—and the least amount of sodium—preferably below 200 mg per serving—Zok explains.
She adds that for prepared products, such as frozen meals and meats, we should look at the amount of saturated fats, which, as a daily total, should not exceed 18 grams. For canned food, we should be looking for products with a low sodium content and low sugar content when it comes to canned fruit.
Most importantly, we want no trans fats in any food we’re consuming, Zok stresses.
Although examining nutrients is important, Zok contends that food should be viewed based on the degree of processing—as a general rule, the less processed the food is, the better it is for you.
“Select whole fruits over fruit juices,” she says. “Fresh meats over individually frozen, seasoned meats, whole grains—rice, quinoa, couscous—over flavoured grain packages. I like Michael Pollan’s seven words of wisdom, ‘Eat foods. Not too much. Mostly vegetables.’”