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Nutrition Facts Panel 101 (PCN Winter 2013) JAN 1 2013 | Consumers and Producers | Pulse Crop News

This article appeared in the Winter 2013 issue of Pulse Crop News.

Wendy Benson, Food and Nutrition Consultant

Most Canadian food packages include the Nutrition Facts Panel – the white box with black wording (and only in sans serif fonts!) The Nutrition Facts Panel must include a minimum of 13 nutrients, the nutrient value, and percent Daily Value for many of the 13 nutrients. About 60 per cent of Canadian shoppers use the Nutrition Facts panel when purchasing groceries (Canadian Council of Food and Nutrition [2008] Tracking Nutrition Trends VII).

The single best use of the Nutrition Facts panels is to compare foods to each other and learn which foods have 15 per cent or more Daily Value (or a lot of a nutrient) or less than 5 per cent (or a little) Daily Value. It’s best to compare foods in similar categories, such as comparing crackers to crackers or salad dressings to other salad dressings. Pulses, however, are such a unique food, there are few good comparison foods.

Interpreting the Nutrition Facts panel has two steps. Go to a cupboard or pantry, pull out a few similar foods, and start to compare.

Step 1

Check the Serving Size for the food. Serving sizes can vary on food products, even for foods in the same category. For example, some canned pulses are 125 mL, others are 250 mL. Dried pulses also range in serving size from 35 to 100 g (uncooked). Many canned soups are based on 250 mL servings.

Step 2

Compare similar foods and start with the nutrients that you would like to know more about and focus on per cent Daily Value. The following is a short list of the many nutrients pulses can brag about:

  • Fibre: Black beans have 10 g fibre (40 per cent Daily Value) compared to black bean soup with 7 g (28 per cent Daily Value) fibre. A few other foods to compare are two slices whole wheat bread with 3 g (12 per cent) and bran cereals with 6 g fibre. Foods with 4 g or more per serving can include a claim the food is ‘very high in fibre.’ Surprisingly few foods can make this claim.
  • Fat: Pulses are naturally low in fat, with many canned and dried products reporting 1 g fat (1 per cent Daily Value). The Spicy Black Bean soup has 3 g fat (5 per cent Daily Value). All are under 5 per cent of the Daily Value, demonstrating pulses and broth-style soups are low fat foods.
  • Iron: Pulses themselves have different iron levels with dried split peas (cooked) and canned white kidney beans at 20 per cent Daily Value; black beans and chickpeas at 25 per cent; and lentils at 30 per cent Daily Value. Black bean soup has 20 per cent Daily Value. Pulses compare well to beef, which would have about 15 per cent Daily Value for iron. Iron in pulses has a caveat because our guts absorb less iron from plant sources than animal foods. Therefore, pulses should be eaten with a food high in vitamin C (such as green peppers or potatoes) or meat to help increase iron absorption.
  • Protein: Canadian food labels do not have percent Daily Value for protein because protein requirements shift significantly with age. The protein in pulses is typically 12-16 g and the canned soup has 8 gram protein. Whole pulses compare well to ground beef, which has 20 g protein.
  • Sodium: Dried pulses have small amounts of natural sodium in the food (5 mg dried or 0 per cent Daily Value). The bean soup has 480 mg (20 per cent Daily Value) sodium; and canned beans have significant sodium at 12 to 18 per cent Daily Value. However, canned beans can be drained and rinsed, reducing the sodium by 40 per cent. This typically lowers sodium to 170-210 mg, which is 8 to 10 per cent Daily Value. President’s Choice Blue Menu® canned beans are one of the first no added salt canned beans Canadians can buy.

This tour of the Nutrition Facts Panel leads to an overall good impression of pulses. They are a decent source of protein, have little fat, and are excellent sources of fibre and iron.

Size Matters

When describing the amount of nutrient in a food, serving size is critical for accurate comparisons. The Step 2 comparisons are based on:

1 cup (250 mL) cooked or canned pulses

1 cup (250 mL) canned soup

1 cup (250 mL) cold cereal

250 mL is about the size of a softball

100 g (3.5 oz) uncooked ground beef. When cooked, this is about the size of a deck of cards

Adding Daily Values is meaningless

Daily Values are based on grams, milligrams, and micrograms required for human nutrients. As nutrient needs are different for men, women, children, and seniors, the Daily Value is a ‘composite person.’ In effect, it’s one-part teenage girl (to meet iron needs), one-part sedentary adults (nutrients for a 2,000 calorie diet), one-part adult woman (to meet calcium needs), etc.

Because Daily Value is a composite person, it cannot be used to determine if our diet meets specific recommendations. For example, eating 10 foods with 10 per cent of the Daily Value for iron might lead to a diet low in iron for a young woman while it will be more than enough for an eight year old.