Sarah Remmer: The Non-Diet Dietitian


Proposed Changes to Food Labels May Change Your Shopping

New proposed changes to Canadian labels are step in the right direction

New proposed changes to Canadian food labels are a step in the right direction, but not good enough

Nutrition labels in Canada may be changing, according to an announcement made on Friday by Canada's Minister of Health, in an effort to make reading food labels (ingredients lists and nutrition facts tables) easier for Canadians and encourage them to make healthier food choices.

The proposed changes include: 

  • Mandatory standardization of serving sizes for the Nutrition Facts table (making it easier to compare products)
  • Improved readability of the Ingredients list on the label with consistent placement for allergen information
  • Manufacturers would list all food colourings by their common name (ie. Citrus Red #2), just like all other food additives, within the ingredient list instead of just "colours" (which doesn't provide enough information for those who are sensitive to certain food colourings). 
  • Grouping all types of added sugars in the product together in the Ingredient list plus to make it easier to understand how much added or refined sugar is in that product
  • A Percentage Daily Value for total sugars (both added and naturally occurring such as in fruit and milk) in the Nutrition Facts table
  • Updated Percentage Daily Values to reflect the most recent nutrient recommendations
  • An exemption for requiring a Nutrition Facts table on pre-packaged vegetables and fruits before making a Health Claim that they reduce the risk of heart disease. 
  • Availability of new free education tools such as "My Food Guide" mobile app and an "Eat Well Plate" tool (this will help guide Canadians in terms of portion sizes and encourage them to cover half their plate with vegetables and fruit

The CEO of Dietitians of Canada, Marsha Sharp, has said that she will be engaging dietitians across the country to help develop a response to the proposed changes. As well, all Canadians are able to weigh in on the proposed regulatory changes to nutrition labels (which have been published in the Canada Gazette, Part 1 for a 75-day period which will end on August 26th, 2015.  

Although these proposed changes are a step in the right direction, (Canadian food labels are very confusing and out of date right now) many Canadian Dietitians, like me, feel that they may fall short. While some of the proposed changes are very positive, such as the change to make all serving sizes standardized across products, and labelling food colours with their proper name, some are lacking. Not distinguishing between natural sugars such as those in milk and fruit, and added sugars such as cane sugar, high fructose corn syrup and molasses in the percentage daily value--and instead, lumping all sugars in together--will make it confusing for consumers to know just how much added sugar is in the product that they're eating. Therefore, products containing real whole fruit or milk (which contain naturally occurring sugar but also a whole host of other nutrients that are important for health), may have similar percentage daily values of sugar as, let's say, sugary cereal or a sugary granola bar (where the sugar is coming from added sugar sources).  We want Canadians to limit added sugars in their diet, not avoid fruits, vegetables and milk products because of their naturally occurring sugars.

The proposed changes would also make the daily value of total sugar (the recommended amount that Canadians consume per day), 100 grams (25 teaspoons) of sugar.  By contrast, the WHO (World Health Organization) has recently recommended a daily limit of 50 grams of added sugar per day, which many think should be adhered to by Health Canada as well, as to better empower Canadians to limit their consumption of refined sugar, as opposed to focusing on naturally occurring sugar coming from whole foods. In my mind (and I believe in many Dietitians'), there should be a separate line on nutrition facts tables dedicated to listing the gram amount of added sugar as well as the percentage daily value of added sugar according to the WHO recommendations. 

What do you think as a Canadian parent? You can provide your own feedback to the Health Canada Office of Legislative and Modernization Policy by August 26th to have your say.

To do so, e-mail: 

 RELATED: The Top 5 Ways Nutrition Labels Lie

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