Beyond the "Nutrition Facts" box, you may spot other nutrition buzzwords. Each of those words and claims are carefully crafted to attract consumer attention and to meet specific regulations that are laid out by Health Canada. You can trust that behind every mention of "free" or "low" or "light" there has been a process to evaluate whether or not a food meets those standards. But what you can't see on the label are the standards themselves.
Free: When a food label says "fat-free," it's natural to assume that the food contains absolutely no fat. But for a food product to claim to be "free" of something, it must contain an amount so small that it would be deemed nutritionally insignificant. That doesn't necessarily mean that there is zero fat – or cholesterol or sodium or sugar – just not enough to really matter.
Low: How low must a food go to be deemed "low-fat" or "low in sodium"? Health Canada mandates that something labelled as "low" in a particular nutrient or ingredient is always associated with a very small amount, and this amount varies depending on the ingredient.
Reduced: You'll see this word attached to "fat" quite often – reduced-fat milk, reduced-fat cheese. To be considered "reduced," a food must contain at least 25% less of a nutrient than a comparable product.
Light: This word sounds diet-friendly, and that's because it can only be attached to a product that is either reduced in fat or in calories. You may also spot the phrase "lightly salted" on foods that contain at least 50% less added sodium than a similar food product.
Source: Foods labelled as a "source of" a particular nutrient, like fibre, contain what is considered to be a "significant amount". A food may also be labelled as a "very good" or "excellent" source of some nutrient.
Health claims: Health Canada regulations allow food companies to make a few types of diet-related health claims on their food labels to draw attention to a relationship between diet and a medical condition or disease.
Health Canada allows claims including the following to be made on the nutrition label:
- A healthy diet low in saturated and trans fats may reduce the risk of heart disease.
- A healthy diet rich in vegetables and fruit may help reduce the risk of some types of cancer.
- A healthy diet with adequate calcium and vitamin D, and regular physical activity, helps to achieve strong bones and may reduce the risk of osteoporosis.
- A healthy diet containing foods low in sodium and high in potassium may reduce the risk of high blood pressure, a risk factor for stroke and heart disease.
Manufacturers can only use a specific claim if their product meets the specific criteria as listed in government regulations.
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