Health Canada Proposes New Nutrition Facts Label

By Kim Banting,

 

Health Canada has recognized the need to improve the overall look and user-ability of the Nutrition Facts panel and ingredient list on packaged foods. At this very time, there are changes being suggested and the new proposed look is available for us to examine. The changes are meant to make the label easier to read, easier to understand and to reflect the latest scientific information. However, it isn’t completed yet and you have the opportunity to have your voice and opinion heard! This link will take you to Health Canada’s website and there is space for you to offer your suggestions to help make this label the best it can possibly be.

2014_07_14-eng.php

I’m going to compare the current label with the new proposals and offer my humble opinion on what else may be of value.

Current label:

At the top we begin with the serving size. Right now, similar products do not have consistent serving sizes, making it difficult to make a choice.  Yogurt, for example can have serving sizes of 1/3 cup, ½ cup or ¾ cup. If you are trying to compare the nutritional value of two different serving sizes, it can be confusing. Especially if you are shopping in a hurry or have your children along with you! The serving size also doesn’t always accurately or realistically represent how much the average person really eats.

Next we have the % Daily Value which lets the purchaser know how much of a day’s worth of the nutrient is in the serving (if you measure out and eat the suggested serving size). All of the daily percentages are based on the serving size at the top of the label, so it is important to keep in mind that if you double the suggested serving, you are doubling all of the values. This may seem like common sense, but many of us are not measuring our food, and often are eating far more than the recommended amount. Also, keep in mind that the footnote at the bottom of the panel will tells us that the values are based on a 2000 calorie diet, and it will only apply if that is what you also are eating.  (I’m not recommending a 2000 calorie diet for everyone, fyi)

The above label shows that one serving of this product is 160 calories and that 90 of these calories come from fat. That is about 55% and that may be too much depending on what the food is and the type of fat. Remember, fat is far more dense than protein or carbohydrate, giving us 9 calories per gram of food as opposed to 4 calories per gram. While fat is an important nutrient for healthy cells, balanced hormones and a well functioning brain and nervous system, if you are eating a diet that comes mainly from packaged foods, you are not getting healthy fats and you are likely getting far too much.

All of the nutrients at the top of the label (fat, cholesterol and sodium) are the nutrients we are advised to reduce by Health Canada. A percent daily value of 5 or less is considered low and is recommended here. At the bottom of the label are the nutrients we want to get high amounts of (fibre, protein and selected vitamins and minerals). A value of 20% or higher is recommended.

Now compare with the new proposed panel above. Standardized serving sizes will require manufacturers to make “serving sizes” consistent and to better reflect the amount of food people really eat. Calories will move higher and be in larger, bold font to quickly find. There are separate daily values each for fat, saturated fat and trans fat, where before there was only a percentage for total fat and saturated fat. There will be new, updated % values for sodium and sugar which will reflect Health Canada’s new guidelines. Also, carbohydrates now fall into the category of nutrients of health concern that we are advised to limit. This is interesting because in 2004, when the World Health Organization (WHO) tried to include a 10% added sugar limit in the Global Strategy for Diet, Physical Activity and Health, the US Congress, under pressure from the sugar industry lobby, threatened to withdraw US funding for the agency. The direct reference to the 10% was withdrawn from the final report. Which begs the question: who’s best interest does WHO have in mind?

There will now be a % daily value for total sugars as well as a line to indicate the added sugars. 10% added sugars is equal to 13 tsp. Health Canada is recommending total sugars daily, including naturally occurring and added, of 100 grams, which equals 25 tsp. However, they do state that less than 5% added sugars, or 6 tsp would be better. Remember this: in any and all sugars, there are 4 calories per gram, 4 grams per tsp and this adds up to 16 calories per tsp. That adds up to 400 calories per day with 25 tsp. Do we really need 400 calories per day of sugar?

As for vitamins and minerals, there will now be absolute amounts on the label where before we only had a % DV and Vitamin D and potassium will be replacing Vitamins A and C.

A new change will also be in effect for the ingredient list on packaged foods. Lists will be mandated to look consistent from package to package, will have a separate title, minimum font size and be black type on a white background, making it much easier to locate. Bullets will clearly separte ingredients and the entire list will appear in a box. Manufacturers will also be required to group similar ingredients together, helping consumers to more easily find hidden sugars. Currently, labels do not distinguish between added and naturally occurring sugars, such as the sugars found in fruit and dairy.

It is my opinion that this is a great improvement to the Nutrition Facts panel, but I have a couple of other suggestions as well:

  1. There is no mandate to include the number of servings per container either currently, or on this new panel. This would be useful for people to quickly scan the size of the package and ask if it is enough food to satisfy in the suggested size serving or would one need to eat the whole package?
  2. Health claims such as “whole grain” or “antioxidants” should give the %DV of the ingredient used in the claim.
  3. To keep the new guidelines for sugar clear, % values for total sugars and added sugars should be included, as well as the number of calories from sugar.
  4. Highlighting or using a bright colour such as red would quickly bring your eye to very high values for the foods to limit (such as trans fat or added sugars) when they exceed the recommended amount.

Be sure to visit Health Canada’s website for more information and to offer any of your suggestions!

2014_07_14-eng.php
Have a healthy day,

Kim Banting, RNCP

Top