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Which New Nutrition Symbol Would YOU Like to See on Food Packages? Send Your Vote to Health Canada Now!

Couple in a supermarket shopping groceries and other stuff, they are looking for what they need

Eating too much sodium, sugars and saturated fat is linked to health problems such as obesity, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes. Health Canada is proposing a new nutrition symbol that would appear on the front of food packages to identify foods that are high in sodium and / or high in sugars and / or high in saturated fat. This new Front-of-Package labelling will help Canadians more quickly compare different products and make healthier choices.

Under the proposed new labelling regulations, pre-packaged foods which contain 15% DV (15% Daily Value) or more for either sodium, sugars or saturated fat will need to display a special nutrition symbol. Pre-packaged meals or dinners which contain 30% DV or more for either sodium, sugars or saturated fat will also need to display the symbol. Foods such as plain milk, most vegetable oils, and fruits and vegetables without added saturated fat will all be exempt from this new labelling rule.

In 2016, Chile implemented a similar front-of-package labelling program. Evaluation results found that almost all (92%) of Chilean consumers said that the label influenced their purchase in some way. And 18% of food products in Chile have been reformulated to contain less sodium, sugars or saturated fat. The proposed front-of-package labelling regulations may be an important catalyst for new and reformulated products here in Canada.

Health Canada has proposed the following four symbol options and now wants to hear which one would be the most useful for YOU. Have your say in shaping this important national nutrition policy. Vote now by completing this short online consumer consultation here by April 26, 2018.

Front of Pack symbol - all 4

Health Canada Bans Main Source of Trans Fats in Foods

Trans-Fats

Trans fats. They’re the worse type of fat because they pose a double whammy to your heart health – not only do they increase the bad “LDL” (Low Density Lipoprotein” cholesterol, but they also decrease the good “HDL” (High Density Lipoprotein” cholesterol. Eating trans fats increases the risk of heart disease.

While some foods contain small amounts of naturally occurring trans fats, the real concern is with foods containing “artificial” or “industrially produced” trans fat. The main source of this type of trans fat is partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs) which are oils that have been created during a process called hydrogenation. This process changes the structure of liquid oils into a solid at room temperature. PHOs extend the shelf life of foods and are typically found in commercially baked goods (e.g. pastries, donuts, muffins), deep fried foods, French fries, hard margarine, lard, shortening, frosting, coffee whiteners, some crackers and microwave popcorn. When you see the words “partially hydrogenated oils” in the ingredients list, you know that the food contains trans fats.

While the food industry has been voluntarily removing trans fats from products over the years, many foods still contain trans fats. On September 15, 2017, Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor announced a ban on PHOs from all foods sold in Canada, including foods prepared in restaurants, “Eliminating the main source of industrially produced trans fats from the food supply is a major accomplishment and a strong new measure that will help to protect the health of Canadians.”

The ban will come into effect on September 15, 2018.

[Photo credit: NewHealthAdvisor.com]

YOU can Help Shape Canada’s Nutrition Policies!

Child apple vs hamburger

Are you concerned about marketing to kids? Do you want Canada’s Food Guide to be the best tool to help you and your families eat well? Are you interested in access to safe and healthy food as well as the relationship between agriculture, the environment and the economy?

If you answered YES to any of these questions, then please take some time to complete Health Canada’s free online consultations on these three issues. Don’t miss your chance to have your voice heard!

1. Restricting unhealthy food and beverage marketing to children

Health Canada wants to reduce how much advertising children see or hear about unhealthy food and beverages. This online consultation is the first step to more consultations coming in 2018. Your ideas and opinions will help Health Canada decide how to go about restricting advertising for unhealthy food and beverages to children.
Here is the online consultation survey. Survey closes on July 25, 2017.


2. Canada’s Food Guide

This is phase 2 of the consultations. After this consultation, Health Canada will create recommendations and develop them into consumer messages, tools, and resources. A new suite of Canada’s Food Guide resources will be rolled out beginning in early 2018.
Here is the online consultation survey. Survey closes on July 25, 2017.


3. A Food Policy for Canada

A food policy is a way to address issues related to the production, processing, distribution and consumption of food. The decisions we make as individuals and as a country about food have a direct impact on our health, environment, economy, and communities.
Here is the online survey. Survey closes on July 27, 2017.

66% of Packaged Foods Contain Added Sugar!

Sue Heather - 2

A recent study in the Canadian Medical Association Journal found that 66% of processed foods contain at least one type of added sugar in the ingredients list. Registered Dietitian Sue Mah shared her thoughts on CBC News Network.

Watch the TV interview.

The study found that added sugars were present in products from baby food, baked goods and cereals to frozen dinners, snacks and yogurts.

Sugar, especially added sugar has been under fire for its association with health issues including heart disease, diabetes, dental cavities and obesity. Added sugars are sugars and syrups that are added to foods or beverages. This does not include naturally occurring sugars which are found in foods such as fruit, milk and yogurt.

The Heart and Stroke Foundation recommends limiting added sugars to a maximum of 10% of total calories in a day. For an average 2,000 calorie diet, 10% is about 48 grams or 12 teaspoons of added sugars a day.

In the USA, added sugars must be disclosed on nutrition labels by July 26, 2018. The situation differs here in Canada. Added sugars will not be disclosed on nutrition labels. Health Canada has set the % Daily Value (%DV) at 100 grams for total sugars (added sugars plus naturally occurring sugars).

Here’s my advice:

1. Read the Nutrition Facts table. Foods with 5 grams or less sugar per serving would be considered to have “a little” sugar whereas foods with 15 grams or more sugar per serving would be considered to have “a lot” of sugar.

sugar a little a lot

2. Read the ingredients list. By 2021, different sugars will be identified individually and grouped together as “Sugars” on the ingredients list. In the meantime, look for ingredient names that indicate sugar or end in ‘ose’ which are sugars too (e.g. dextrose, glucose, fructose, maltose, sucrose).

3. Look at the whole food.
Just because a food has little or no sugar doesn’t mean that it is a healthy or nutritious choice. Choose wholesome, foods for minimal sugar and maximum nutrition.

2016 Year in Review: Top Nutrition Headlines and What to Expect in 2017

cauliflower-sue-pulses-sugar-final

Wow, it’s been quite a year for trending food and nutrition issues! Here’s my take on the top three nutrition headlines of the year plus what you can expect in 2017.

1. CAULIFLOWER CRISIS

Who can ever forget the $8 sticker shock on a head of cauliflower in January?! It became the poster child for rising food prices in Canada. According to the CBC, the price of fresh veggies rose by 13% in the past two years.

What to expect in 2017: The average Canadian family can expect to pay up to $420 more for food next year, according to Canada’s Food Price Report, an annual publication by researchers at Dalhousie University in Halifax. The price of meats, fish, seafood and fresh vegetables may rise as much as 4 to 6 percent. Lead author Sylvain Charlebois points to weather disruptions caused by La Nina, energy related costs and the tanking Loonie as factors affecting the price hikes.

What you can do: Look at grocery store flyers and use e-coupons. Plan your meals and plan to use the leftovers too. See more money-saving tips in my interview with CBC The Exchange.

2. INTERNATIONAL YEAR OF PULSES
Declared by the United Nations, the International Year of Pulses successfully raised our awareness of pulses and their many health benefits. Chef Michael Smith, Canada’s ambassador of the International Year of Pulses, kicked off the year with an invitation for all of us to take the Pulse Pledge and eat pulses at least once a week for 10 weeks.

What to expect in 2017: The buzz about pulses will continue, starting with Global Pulse Day which occurs January 18th of every year. It’s a global event to celebrate pulses and continue the momentum of the 2016 International Year of Pulses. With rising food costs, look to economical and versatile pulses to be a staple on your grocery list.

What you can do: Plan to eat at least one meatless meal each week using beans, peas, lentils or chickpeas. Here are some of my favourite recipes – including a delicious flourless chickpea chocolate cake!

3. SUGAR TAX
In February, the Dietitians of Canada released a position statement calling for a 10-20% excise tax on sugar-sweetened beverages. Drinking sugar-sweetened beverages such as soft drinks, fruit drinks, sports drinks, energy drinks and specialty coffee / tea beverages seems to be linked to excess weight in both kids and adults. In March, the Senate Report on Obesity also recommended a new tax on sugar-sweetened and artificially-sweetened beverages as one of many efforts to fight obesity in Canada.

What to expect in 2017: Sugar will continue to be under fire. In his Spring 2016 budget speech, Canadian Finance Minister Bill Morneau pledged to help families make better choices, including actions to include more information about added sugars on food labels. Earlier this month, Health Canada opened a public consultation about its proposed front-of-package nutrition labels. For the first time ever, sugar would be called out as one of the three nutrients that can negatively affect our health if consumed in excess. Health Canada proposes to set the % Daily Value (%DV) for total sugars (natural and added sugars) at 100 grams per day. Under these proposed new labelling regulations, foods which contain 15 grams or more of total sugars per serving would be considered “high in sugars” and carry a warning symbol.

What you can do: Share your opinions about nutrition labelling. Complete this brief consumer questionnaire and / or complete the technical questionnaire both by January 13th, 2017. This is YOUR chance to help shape the future of nutrition labelling in Canada.

New Nutrition Labels are Coming!

nutrition-labels-old-vs-new-bigger

It’s official! After two years of public consultations, Health Canada has finalized the changes to the Nutrition Facts table and ingredients list on packaged foods. On December 14th, 2016, the Honourable Jane Philpott, Minister of Health announced that these changes are all part of the strategy to help make healthy food choices the easy choice for all Canadians.

Here’s a quick at-a-glance comparison of the old versus the new Nutrition Facts table as well as ingredients lists.


The new Nutrition Facts table puts a greater emphasis on calories, potassium, calcium and iron. For the first time ever, there will be a % Daily Value (% DV) for total sugars at 100 grams:

nutrition-labels-old-vs-new-bigger


Colours will now be identified by their name rather than collectively grouped as “colours”:

ingreds-list-new

Different sugars will still be identified individually by name, and will now be grouped together as “Sugars”:

ingreds-list-sugars

The food industry has until 5 years – until 2021 – to make these changes, but you may start seeing new labels as early as next year.

FDA introduces new Nutrition Facts Table

The Nutrition Facts Table (NFT) in the USA is over 20 years old. On May 20, 2016, the FDA (U.S. Food and Drug Administration) introduced the new label to help consumers south of our border make informed choices about the food they buy and eat.

NFT old versus new 2016 v2

Here’s a brief summary of the key changes that will take effect by July 2018 on USA food labels:

1. Serving size and servings per container
– are now highlighted in larger font and/or bold. Serving sizes have been updated.
LIKE: This underscores the importance of portion sizes.
DISLIKE: The serving sizes are based on the amounts of food and beverages that people are actually eating, not on the amounts that they should be eating. For example, the serving size of ice cream was previously ½ cup but is changing to 2/3 cup.

2. Calories – are now highlighted in extra large font (how can you miss it?)
LIKE: With a global obesity crisis, calories have become the simple currency of weight. We tend to underestimate the calories that we consume.
BUT…Calories does not tell the whole story. Remember to look at the bigger picture of nutrient density and food quality. A Greek yogurt parfait with nuts and fruit may have more calories that a donut – but which is the healthier choice?

3. Calories from fat – have been removed
LIKE: We know that the quality and type of fat is more important that the amount of fat.

4. Added sugars
– makes a debut on the new USA NFT. The %DV (% Daily Value) is set at 50 grams.
LIKE: Consumers are hearing more about sugar and health. According to the FDA, research shows that it is difficult to meet nutrient needs while staying within caloric limits if you consume more than 10% of your total calories from added sugars. Disclosing the amount of added sugars on the label will help consumers better distinguish between the natural sugars versus the added sugars in the food.

5. Vitamin D and potassium – are required to be declared on the USA NFT, along with calcium and iron. For each of these, both the actual amount and the %DV amount are listed. Vitamins A and C are no longer mandatory, and can be listed on a voluntary basis.
LIKE: Since many of us are probably not getting enough Vitamin D, potassium, calcium and iron, these nutrients are of public health significance.

6. Footnote – is added to help put the %DV into context for consumers.
LIKE: The %DV is an easy way for consumers to determine whether the food has a little (less than 5% DV) or a lot (15% DV or more) of a nutrient.

The real question now is – will Health Canada follow suit with our NFT?
Stay tuned, I’ll let you know as soon as it happens!

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.

Tell Health Canada what you think about the proposed new food labels

Health Canada recently announced proposed new changes to the Nutrition Facts table and ingredients lists with the goal of improving nutrition information on food labels.

Some of the key proposed changes include:
– listing Calories in a bigger and bold font
– using consistent serving sizes on similar foods
– increasing the Daily Value for fat and calcium, and decreasing the Daily Value for sodium
– adding information about added sugars by including a % Daily Value for sugars as well as showing the amount of added sugars in the product
– removing vitamins A and C, but adding potassium and vitamin D to the label
– grouping nutrients that we should limit (fat, sodium and sugar) at the top half of the label
– grouping nutrients that we need to get enough of (fibre, vitamins, minerals) at the bottom half of the label.

The consultation period is now open, and all consumers and stakeholders are invited to provide input on the proposed changes. Please take the time to have your say and share your feedback in shaping this important nutrition labelling regulation.

Health Canada has developed fact sheets on: Nutrition Facts table and Ingredient List, Serving Sizes and Sugar Content as well as an Executive Summary of the proposed changes. Consumers can provide their feedback through a 10 question online survey.

For food and health professionals, there is also a series of five technical consultation documents which explain the rationale for the proposed changes: Format Requirements, Core Nutrients, Daily Values (%DV), Reference Amounts and Serving Sizes. You are also invited to provide feedback to each of these consultation documents.

All comments must be submitted to Health Canada by September 11, 2014.

Menu labelling – would you like 90 minutes of walking with that?

The conversations about menu labelling continue. Dr. David McKeown, Toronto’s Chief Medical Officer of Health supports mandatory menu labelling of calories and sodium, while some researchers wonder whether “physical activity equivalent” labelling is a more effective strategy.

McKeown urges the province to enact its own law, but if the province doesn’t do so by September, he plans to develop a Toronto-specific bylaw for chains with more than 15 restaurants. Critics say that calorie and sodium counts alone don’t allow consumers to make informed choices. A Diet Coke for example, has fewer calories than a glass of milk, while a bagel might have more sodium than a cookie.

Stephanie Jones, the Ontario VP of the Canadian Restaurant and Foodservices Association endorses British Columbia’s voluntary Informed Dining program, in which participating restaurants post nutrition information in a brochure or poster, rather than on the main menu.

And here’s another POV. Preliminary research shows that consumers may be more motivated to choose foods with fewer calories when restaurant menus show how much exercise is needed to burn off those calories. For example it would take 90 minutes of walking to burn off the calories in this hypothetical ham sandwich. It’s an interesting concept, indeed!

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