Food labels are on nearly every food item you purchase, but do you know how to read them? Especially if you're trying to manage your weight or have health complications, reading food labels can provide you with important information about the foods you eat.

If your time is limited, compare labels on just a few foods each week. Serving sizes on most foods are standardized, making it easier to compare different brands. Ingredients are listed in order of greatest to least amounts. If you're limiting your fat and salt intake, these should be near the bottom of the ingredients list.

On each food label, you'll find Daily Values for key nutrients, including fat, saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, sodium, fibre, protein, and sugar. These tell you how a particular food will fit into your overall diet, according to current nutritional recommendations (which are also listed on the label). Some foods may be labeled with terms such as "reduced-calorie" and "low-fat." Use of these terms is strictly regulated; more information on what each term means can be found on Health Canada's website.

Certain foods may also make health related claims on their packaging if they contain a sufficient level of nutrients. A box of oatmeal may state that "soluble fibre consumed as part of a low-fat diet may reduce the risk of heart disease." Other allowable relationships include those between calcium and osteoporosis, saturated fat and heart disease, sodium and hypertension, folic acid and neural tube defects, or fibre and cancer.

Marlene Veloso