Take Control

Reading Labels

  • Nutrition Facts labels are now mandatory on most prepackaged foods in Canada – so use them!
  • When checking sodium levels, focus on the number of mg listed for sodium in the Nutritional Facts table. This is the amount of sodium in mg per unit of food or serving size. Remember that for an adult your total intake target is 1,500 mg.
  • The second important piece of information is the unit of food or serving size. This tells us how much food the Nutritional Facts table is referring to — for example per ½ cup (125 ml), or per 50 g, or per whole tortilla, etc. Packets and cans typically contain multiple servings or units, so you will have to multiply the sodium number by the number of units or servings you plan to consume in order to get the sodium total.

For example:
Children’s Alphabets. One serving is 250 ml or 1 cup. One serving contains 1440 mg, or 120 per cent of Adequate Daily Intake of sodium for a 4- to 8-year-old. By eating a cup and a half of the noodles, sodium intake increases to 2,160 mg, or 180 per cent of Adequate Daily Intake for a child age 4 to 8.

  • Note that the % Daily Value listed for sodium should be ignored since unfortunately it is calculated based on an unhealthy target daily sodium intake of 2,400 mg. This results in a misleading underestimate of the % of your target for the day.*

For example:
If you eat one serving of soup and the Nutritional Facts table lists the sodium amount per serving as 480 mg, then the corresponding % Daily Value will be listed as 20%. But, in fact, 480 mg represents 32% of your Daily Value when based on a healthy daily (Adequate Intake) of 1,500 mg. If you are a senior, or a 4- to 8-year-old, then 480 mg represents a whopping 40% of your health daily target of
1,200 mg!

  • As much as nutrition labels help you to identify the foods with the lowest sodium content, keep in mind that it is the products with no labels that are the best (e.g. vegetables in the produce section)

Confusing sodium food claims explained:

  • Sodium free (“no sodium”, “zero salt”, etc): less than 5 mg of sodium per serving.
  • Low sodium (“low salt, “little sodium”, etc): 140 mg or less per serving.
  • Reduced sodium (“less salt”, “less sodium”, etc): 25% less sodium than the original product (may still be high!).
  • Lower in sodium (“Lower in salt”, “less sodium”, etc): 25% less sodium content than comparable products (may still be high!).
  • No added sodium (“Unsalted”, “No salt added”, etc): No salt or sodium was added during processing (may still contain sodium!).
  • Lightly salted (“Salted lightly”): Contains at least 50% less added sodium than is typically added to comparable products (may still be high!).

* The manufacturer is following standard labelling practice and not attempting to deceive the consumer.