Sunday, April 25, 2010

Nutrition Labels: Inspiration for Cilantro Lime Tilapia

I love going to the grocery store.  When I’m stressed and need to unwind, I stroll through the aisles, browsing and brainstorming, examining random items whose dietary claims (only allowed in Canada in 2003[1]) peak my interest that day.  I pick up bags and boxes, check ingredients, and look at the nutritional labels.
Nutrition labels became mandatory on most pre-packaged foods in the U.S. in 1990, but in Canada only in 2005 (following a 2003 ruling).[2][3]  Enforced, in Canada, by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, the labeling regulations are

“…designed to provide a system for conveying information about the nutrient content of food in a standardized format, which allows for comparison among foods at the point of purchase. [The] clear, uniform information should support consumers . . . by permit[ting] dietary management of chronic diseases of public health significance, and [by] help[ing] them make food choices that may reduce the risk of developing chronic diseases.”

Labeling requirements in the United States are based upon the same principles as those in Canada, exposing key factors in the healthiness of a product that may otherwise be unapparent to the consumer.  Guidelines govern label contents, placement, size and font, and specify if additional ingredient information must be listed on the package.  Neither country mandates labels for most raw, unprocessed and unwrapped produce, meat and fish, but encourages companies to give nutritional information when packaging allows.  Even on products that are processed only in ways that don’t change their ingredients, the little white and black labels are helpful for those wishing to learn about new foods.  They are easy to find and read, even relative to researching with an iphone application, and I frequently find myself thus inspired to try foods shown to be good for my health.
            I was in the frozen fish aisle at Trader Joe’s, my favourite grocery store in Boston, when I first discovered Tilapia.  Vacuum-sealed in clear plastic, it had no other packaging save a nutrition label and price tag on the back – which first caught my attention.  The price per weight was low compared to the fish I usually bought (sole or salmon), and so I grabbed a small package and tried it that night for dinner.  Tilapia, I concluded, is not only extremely lean, but has a pleasant texture that is firm yet flaky, and a mild – almost bland – flavour, that beseeches and accommodates a variety of flavours.  Though best eaten fresh, I found that Tilapia freezes well and thaws quickly – making it perfect to have on hand for a quick, healthy dinner.

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