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My POV on Health Canada’s proposed new nutrition labels

On June 12th, Health Canada released a proposed new Nutrition Facts table aimed to improve nutrition information on food labels. While I agree that nutrition labels can provide useful information to help Canadians find healthier choices, I’m not 100% sold on all of the proposed changes. Even after tuning in to Health Canada’s webinar on the proposed changes last week, I still have a number of questions and a long wish list. Here are just some of my comments which I’ll be sending to Health Canada during the consultation phase.

Realistic serving sizes – LIKE – If you’re a cereal lover, you’ll know that the current serving sizes are based on a weight of 30 grams. This means that a serving of cereal could be anywhere from 1/3 cup to 1 1/2 cups, depending on the density of the cereal. On the proposed new label, the serving size of all cereals will be 1 cup. With this type of standardized serving size, it will be easier for us to compare the nutritional profile of one cereal to another.
Wish list: Let’s change the serving sizes on Canada’s Food Guide so that they’ll finally match the serving sizes seen on nutrition labels. For consistency, we should also keep the serving of bread at 1 slice (which is currently a Food Guide serving) instead of upping it to the proposed 2 slices.

%DV (Daily Value) for carbohydrates and fibre removed – DISLIKE – Oh boy, I have so many question marks about the %DV on the proposed new labels, starting with carbs and fibre! The current nutrition labels include a %DV for carbohydrates and fibre. So why will these be removed in the proposed new label? When I asked Health Canada, they replied that carbohydrate is not a nutrient that Canadians need to limit. And that the %DV would only be listed for nutrients of public health concern for which our intakes are either insufficient or excessive. I have a few issues with this argument. First of all, no where on the proposed new food label does it say that the %DV is only given for nutrients that we’re missing out on or getting too much of. So how’s a consumer supposed to know? To me, including the %DV for some but not all of the nutrients is essentially withholding important information and does not provide the full picture to consumers. Secondly, there may be some folks who need to watch their carb intake, so providing a %DV for carbs would be helpful. Thirdly, we know that Canadians are only getting about 1/2 the fibre they need in a day and we know very well about the health benefits of fibre. So doesn’t that qualify fibre as a nutrient with an insufficient intake?? Health Canada’s rationale is that the definition of fibre has broadened and that consumers can still use the “source of fibre” claims to help guide them in their decision making. Lastly, the proposed new nutrition label would only provide a %DV for one macronutrient – fat – with the rationale that we need to be limiting our fat intake. OK, so here’s the super confusing part: If Health Canada wants us to limit our overall fat intake, why did they INCREASE the daily recommended dietary allowance of fat from 65 to 75 grams (from 30% of the calories in a day to 35% of calories in day)? If the proportion of fat is going UP in the diet, then which macronutrient is going down – carbs or protein or both??
Wish list: Full disclosure. Give consumers the full picture. Add a %DV for carbohydrates and protein too, and while you’re at it, re-assess the daily recommendations for protein. OR completely remove the %DV fat.

Changes to the %DV of nutrients – LIKE BUT CONFUSING! – I applaud Health Canada for lowering the daily recommended intake for sodium from 2400 mg to 2300 mg (some health professionals might argue that the recommendation should even be as low as 1500 mg) and for increasing the daily recommended dietary allowance for vitamin D from 200 mcg to 800 mcg. But here’s the confusing part. The 800 mcg amount of vitamin D is the recommended daily amount for a 70+ year old adult. The proposed new calcium %DV of 1300 mg on the other hand is based on the needs of a growing teenager, and the proposed new iron %DV at 18 mg is based on the needs of a woman in her child-bearing years.
Wish list: How about basing the %DV for these nutrients on the needs of an average adult who’s eating 2000 calories. That’s what it is now. Why are we making it more confusing for consumers?

Sugars grouped together in the ingredients list – LIKE – I agree that all sugars should be listed together. However, I wondered why “Added sugars” was not added to the proposed new nutrition label. Health Canada tells me that not many foods would have a different value for “Total sugars” and “Added sugars”, and that the ingredients list could help consumers determine how much added sugar is in the food.
Wish list: We break down saturated and trans fat under the “Total fat” category. We should do the same for “Total sugars” and “Added sugars”.

Cholesterol on the nutrition label – DISLIKE –
We know that dietary cholesterol doesn’t have as much impact on our blood cholesterol as we once thought. Do we need to label the cholesterol content of a food anymore?
Wish list: Nix the cholesterol. Use the space on the food label to put back “Added sugars”

Vegetable and fruit health claim – LIKE – Vegetables and fruit don’t need a Nutrition Facts table and can state the claim “A healthy diet rich in a variety of vegetables and fruit may reduce the risk of heart disease.” Yes, finally!
Wish list: Tell us if/how processed vegetables and fruit can carry this health claim on their packaging.

I encourage you to send your comments too by August 26, 2015. You can email or fax your comments. For more info, see Health Canada Consultation on Proposed Food Label Changes.

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