Buyer Beware! – Reading the Fine Print

13-10-23 food labellingHow often are you running through the aisles of a grocery store intent on your next three errands and mindlessly putting groceries into the cart? I know I often shop on auto-pilot, and I certainly don’t read every label, although I try to check out the nutrition information on new products or if I’m weighing two options. Shreddies versus Cheerios, the sale yogurt versus the the usual brand.

Auto-pilot is the norm for the majority of Canadian shoppers. And while some thought goes into purchases, sometimes we are swayed by healthy claims that may not be accurate, or certainly don’t provide a full picture of what we are feeding our families. Just because a product has “No Trans Fats” or “Whole Grain!” somewhere in it, doesn’t make it a healthy product, and labels on the front of package that talk about it are misleading.

The debate continues on how to better label our food – last week’s throne speech talked about consulting with Canadian parents, Health Canada is looking into modernizing labels and health advocates everywhere want better information offered to the public.

I have to say I like the questions being raised by CSPI (the Centre for Science in the Public Interest).Their infographic and Report on Food Labeling Chaos brings some pertinent questions to the fore. Ones that parents need to keep in mind as they buy food for their kids, especially as sugar, sodium and other levels can impact small bodies even more than large ones.

I like the idea of bringing parents into the conversation, but let’s not put aside the voices of those who really know about health and food science. One way for all of us to get a better education on what to buy and how to read the nutrition labels on our food is to check out the Canadian Diabetes Association guide.

It is worth printing out a copy and having it nearby, as we all get confused about the facts. So next time your hand wavers over a product that seems fun, but you wonder about how much whole grains make a difference in a brownie – Check the facts!  While we look forward to the day when the app on our phone will scan and tell us whether or not the food product we are considering meets our nutrition priorities, that is still a little ways off!

Samantha Hartley-Folz
Manager, Policy and Programs
October 2013

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