Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving

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Does adding the percent daily value to the nutrition label add value or confusion?


The news broke the other day that, despite calls from the public, Health Canada will not be revising the nutrition facts panel to include added sugars. According to our current health minister, one of the most “significant” changes will be the inclusion of a percent daily value for sugar.

Despite the lack of evidence for a specific recommendation for sugar intake (either added or naturally occurring) the percent daily value will be based on a total of 100 grams of sugar (approximately 25 teaspoons). This kind of blows my mind. I think that it’s absurd to make numerical recommendations for nutrients to people when we don’t know how much people can (or should) safely consume. Everyone’s all up in arms about sugar being toxic and the root of obesity which, if you read this blog regularly, you know I think is melodramatic at best, misguided fear mongering at worst. So, how exactly are we making recommendations for total sugar intake when we don’t know what that should look like?

Another dietitian on twitter pointed out to me that the percent daily value is not a recommended amount to consume. Rather, it’s a tool to help people make healthy choices. A percent daily value of less than 5% is “a little”, while more than 15% is “a lot”. Yes, that’s how we’ve tried to frame the confusing percent daily value in recent years but I wonder, is that really how most people use it? And, considering that technically percent daily value is based on the recommended nutrient consumption for an “average” 2, 000 calorie diet, wouldn’t that mean that the arbitrary 100 grams of sugar be either a quantity to aim for or at least a maximum to stay under? Personally, I’d prefer to see the percent daily value removed from the nutrition facts panel rather than the addition of a %DV for total sugar.

Of course, beyond the addition of fairly useless information, Health Canada won’t be adding the more useful information that we were all screaming for. Nope, if you want to know if your food has added sugar in it then you’ll have to check the ingredient list (often preferable to the nutrition facts panel anyway but much more time consuming). Look for all of the usual suspects (e.g. anything ending in “ose”, sugar (duh), molasses, honey, syrup, fruit juice or puree, etc). Ideally, you want most of the sugar you consume to be naturally occurring so your food might not have an ingredient list (like an apple) or it might contain sugar but not have any sugars in the ingredients (like plain yoghurt). Limiting the number of pre-made foods you consume may mean that you spend more time in the kitchen but it will save you time reading labels in the grocery store and likely give you more healthy years to enjoy your life.


Do you use the %DV to make food choices?

Myth 38: The % Daily Value on the Nutrition Facts table is not very useful.
What Dietitians of Canada says:
“The % Daily Value (%DV) is useful for anyone wanting to make healthier choices. You can use the %DV to see if a food has a little or a lot of a nutrient… An easy rule of thumb: 5% DV or less is a little, and 15% DV or more is a lot for any nutrient.”
What I say:
Personally, I don’t find the Percent Daily Value (%DV) very useful. If consumers are also finding that it’s not very useful I think that instead of trying to convince them that it is we should perhaps be listening to them and creating a nutrition label that IS actually useful. Oh sure, this %5 is a little and 15% is a lot campaign is alright I suppose. However, I think the concept behind the %DV is confusing and misleading. It’s based on the nutrient needs for the “average” person, who’s really average though? We’re a pretty diverse bunch and we can’t expect a 120 lb 50-year-old woman to have the same needs as a 200 lb 25-year-old man. I find it easier to get an idea of my personal nutrient needs and then just look at the actual values for the nutrients I’m concerned about rather than looking at the %DV. Also, with our sedentary North American lifestyles, many of us probably don’t need the 2, 0000 kcal/day diet that the %DV is based on.