This unique online tool helps take the confusion away by allowing you to compare the nutrition information you find on packaged foods to the Alberta Nutrition Guidelines.
Using the tool is simple. Just go to the landing page for the Healthy U Food Checker; once there, you can start using the online tool (desktop version) or the smartphone version. It’s just a click away!
Features of the Healthy U Food Checker
Heather Mathur, a registered dietitian in Lethbridge, suggests the accessibility of the Healthy U Food Checker is a practical feature that people will appreciate. “It is a simple, easy to use tool that can be used by most age groups. It is especially convenient for people who have a smart phone as they can use the tool right in the grocery store to help decide if their potential purchases are worth putting in their cart.”
Using this tool, users can compare the nutrition information from the Nutrition Facts table on a food product to the Alberta Nutrition Guidelines, a set of simple, unbiased and easy-to-follow recommendations on how to make healthier food and beverage choices.
The Alberta Nutrition Guidelines classify foods into one of three categories: Choose Most Often, Choose Sometimes or Choose Least Often. Guidelines are available for both children/youth and for adults. By entering the information you find on the Nutrition Facts table into the Healthy U Food Checker, users can quickly determine whether the food fits into a healthy, balanced approach to eating.
In addition to helping you at home or at the grocery store, the Healthy U Food Checker can be a useful tool to help you consider menu items offered by your favourite restaurants. For instance, if a restaurant has posted Nutrition Facts table information on their menu or website, you can use the Healthy U Food Checker to determine how different menu choices may fit into your plan for eating well.
The Healthy U Food Checker gets “kudos” from Lyndsey Robinson, a Health Promotion Facilitator for Alberta Health Services. She states, “The fact that the Healthy U Food Checker has embraced technology and is available online - including a smartphone version - appeals to people. After all, the best thing we can do is to make the healthy choice the easy choice!”
Reducing Consumer Confusion is Important
Eating well plays a key role in preventing a number of chronic conditions such as overweight and obesity, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure (hypertension), heart disease and osteoporosis.
Unfortunately, while food labels provide Canadians with important facts about the foods, the large amount of information on the labels can be overwhelming.
“Many people are confused about how to read a food or beverage label and whether or not a food or beverage choice is healthy,” explains Mather. “Also, more and more people are rushed for time so they may not take the time to really look at a food label. In addition, there are many different 'healthy eating' labelling systems in the market, which can cause more confusion for consumers.”
With so many different kinds of foods available to us, making healthy food choices is more challenging than ever. Basic foods such as apples, oatmeal, lower fat milk and lean beef are easy to identify healthy choices. However, many of the foods that we eat are very complex and contain multiple different ingredients, a situation that often leaves people feeling lost when it comes to determining what to purchase.
Mathur has seen these kinds of struggles first hand in her work. “There is confusion with reading labels as people often don't know, for example, what the recommended amount of fibre is for the average person or what is considered too much sodium. The starting point for interpreting the label is often missing for Canadians. Without having a general understanding of nutrition recommendations the label can often be a bit meaningless for the general public.”
Robinson agrees that people are very confused about what is a healthy choice. “Most people just read the packaging – but not the Nutrition Facts label – to decide if something is healthy, based on the pictures and promotional messages.”
Robinson, whose work focuses on preventing obesity, feels there is a connection between this confusion and our health, especially where body weight is concerned. “People need to be educated to read nutrition facts labels and to have some idea about how much sugar, fat, salt, or other ingredients is okay to eat in a day - otherwise, how do they know what is enough or too much?”
Although we don’t always understand what we read, food labels remain a key source of information about the healthfulness of foods. In fact, according to data collected by the Canadian Council of Food and Nutrition, food product labels rank as Canadians’ number one source of nutrition information, due in part to their easy accessibility.
Given our reliance on food labels, finding a way to translate the sometimes complicated nutrition information we see on packages into something more straightforward could have a powerful impact on our food choices. Enter the Healthy U Food Checker!
“Buying In” to Using the Healthy U Food Checker
Both Mathur and Robinson have used the Healthy U Food Checker with the public and say the response or “buy in” has been terrific.
“The Healthy U Food Checker is a great tool to help take the guesswork out of reading a label,” says Mather. “It can guide people who are trying to decide if the food or beverage is a good choice, or a not-so-great choice for nutrition and health.”
Robinson seconds this opinion. “It's a tool people can use to navigate food labelling. In addition, it provides another opportunity for those of us working in health promotion to start a conversation with the public about what is a healthy choice and why.”
Healthy U Food Checker: Use the online food checker tool (desktop version) or click on the stick man/smartphone image to use the smartphone version.