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how to read a nutrition label
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Labels are critical to help you keep track of your things. The same is true of the food labels that appear on every package in North American grocery stores, and those labels are subject to certain standards under the law.

There are also private labeling systems in place. The Health Check System in Canada, which is a Heart and Stroke Foundation initiative, comes to mind as one that hasn’t lived up to rigorous enough standards.

In the US, there is the Hannaford Guiding Stars System, which is now implemented in Loblaw’s stores in Canada. It’s a ‘quick peek’ rating system to help customers identify the healthier products. Each product is given a rating of one, two, or three stars by a third-party panel of experts. Points are weighted according to the presence of positive attributes (like protein and fibre) and the absence of negative (white sugar, flour, salt, fat, etc.). It is a great quick way to help you pick up the best in class.

No matter the rating system on the product, once you get your products home, take the time to actually read the label and focus on:

  • The ingredient list. The first three items should be real, whole foods and the list should be as short as possible and completely recognizable.
  • The serving size.  Be sure you know that the serving size is not the recommended amount that you should eat, but a reference number upon which the nutritional information is calculated.
  • % of Daily Value. The number chosen is for a 2000 calorie per day diet which represents an average. And you are not average. So much can affect how many calories are right for you.  Be sure that you know how many calories are right for you, your number could be higher or lower.
  • Slippery Sodium. Health Canada estimates that 88% of our salt intake comes from packaged foods, so simply putting away the salt shaker isn’t the solution. Packages contain a ‘% Daily Value’ amount that is too high so it obscures the facts. Most health care professionals recommend around 1500 mg per day as a maximum. Nutrition labels allow 2400 mg per day (because the Canadian average is around 3300). Be sure that this is a percentage that you stay well below. There are ways to reduce your sodium, but in the meantime, read every package, add up your sources for a day and do not go above 75% of the ‘% DV’.
  • There are only 13 ‘important nutrients’ that must be listed on a label. But of course, a healthy diet contains much, much more. If a piece of fruit listed all of its nutrients, the label would wrap around it many times over.

Most of your nutrients will actually be coming from whole foods, so be sure that this is also where most of your calories come from and you will be right on track.

Image of reading a nutrition label from Shutterstock

Theresa is a Food Communications Specialist and Nutritionist. Her French Canadian influences are a part of her 'no bologna' style as everything is on the table...not just the dinner. She has the unique ability to distill complex health concepts into simple, savvy steps to improve any lifestyle choice. Theresa is a sought after media commentator and lifestyle pundit on many topics with a particular fascination with human relationships with food and culture. She has two books published in Canada and the US: Cook Once a Week, Eat Well Every Day and Ace Your Health, 52 Ways to Stack Your Deck. She can be found on Twitter as @theresaalbert and at
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5 Simple Ways to Avoid Dry, Itchy Skin in Winter
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If your family is like mine, then yours also suffers from dry, itchy skin in winter. It’s definitely not comfortable nor beautiful and it seems to last forever (much like our lovely Canadian winters). But the suffering stops now. Here are some simple tips for preventing and relieving dry, itchy skin.

Vitamin A¹
Also known as retinol, vitamin A encourages the rejuvenation of skin cells. Without enough vitamin A, (and vitamin D as well), the skin becomes dry and rough. The best sources of vitamin A are liver and kidneys, but if the thought of eating either initiates your gag reflex, then try a cod liver oil supplement. Not only is cod liver oil rich in vitamin A and D, it’s also high in fatty acids, essential for beautiful skin. Which leads us to…

Fatty Acids¹
We know that fatty acids do a body good all year round, but you may want to try increasing your consumption during the winter months. Foods like walnuts, flaxseed, salmon, and olive oil can all help skin cells stay hydrated. Consider adding more olive oil to salads, using ground flax seed in baked goods, taking a fish oil or cod liver oil supplement in addition to eating salmon, and adding chopped walnuts to cereals and oatmeal.

Bathing Routine
If you are prone to itchy winter skin, never take a bubble bath (kids included!) or sit in a bathtub of soapy water. This will dry out and irritate your skin like nothing else. Instead, use soap or cleansers sparingly and wash them off quickly and thoroughly every time. City water is full of chlorine, which is very drying to the skin, so consider purchasing a chlorine filter for your shower and bath. And lastly, always moisturize immediately, especially after hand washing, to lock in moisture. This is a critical step for those seeking relief from itchy skin, especially in winter.

Cover Up
Wear gloves inside. Yes, I’m serious! Wear gloves to do the dishes and wear gloves to bed. Kids can wear mittens if they prefer. Our hands dry out much quicker than any other part of our bodies because they are constantly exposed to irritants.  Moisturize hands thoroughly just before bedtime and cover them with cotton or bamboo gloves (even socks work). This works well for kids too, if they’ll keep the gloves on all night.

Aside from hands, our cheeks, especially kids’ cheeks, take a beating all winter long because they’re usually exposed to the cold, windy, winter air. So before heading outdoors, cover up those cheeks with a thick balm or ointment. Using a balm or ointment is better than a cream since they absorb slowly and will do double duty as a moisturizer and a protective barrier.

Less Heat
Dry heat and low humidity levels quite literally suck the moisture right out of you. Since we spend most of our time at home sleeping, I recommend focusing on cutting dryness and increasing humidity in the bedrooms. If allergies and asthma aren’t a concern, you can try a humidifier, but use caution as humidifiers are notorious for growing mold. Adding a few houseplants will help increase humidity, as will placing bowls of water on top of radiators or in front of central heat vents. Just remember to change the water and bowl daily to prevent bacteria from growing.

¹ Always speak with a health practitioner before adding any supplement to your or your child’s diet.

Image of skin from Shutterstock.

Jennifer knows a thing or two about dry, itchy skin after battling her son’s severe eczema for several years. She shares about her family’s journey with eczema, allergies, and asthma at It’s an Itchy Little World. She is also founder of The Eczema Company, an online store which provides natural skin care, protective clothing, and laundry alternatives for children and adults suffering from eczema.
Comments | Tagged under winter, skincare, eczema
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