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New Front-of-Package Nutrition Labels are Coming to Canada

A magnifying glass with the words "High in sat fat, sugars, sodium"

 

 

 

 

 

You’re probably already familiar with the Nutrition Facts information found on the back of food packages. Health Canada is now introducing a new nutrition symbol that will appear on the front of food packages. This new front-of-package (FOP) nutrition symbol will help consumers quickly identify foods which are high in saturated fats, sugars and / or sodium. Here’s what you need to know.

Background

According to Heart and Stroke, 60% of the food we buy is prepackaged and processed, and many of these foods may be high in saturated fats, sugars and / or sodium. Eating a diet that’s high in these nutrients of concern is linked to a higher risk of heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes and some types of cancer. At the same time, 8 out of 10 Canadians say that nutrition is important when choosing foods.

To help Canadians make informed choices, Health Canada is introducing a new front-of-package (FOP) nutrition symbol to identify packaged foods which are high in saturated fats, sugars and / or sodium. The regulations came into effect on July 20, 2022 and food companies have until January 1, 2026 to update their packaging their labels. Over 40 countries including Chile, Argentina, Mexico and New Zealand, currently have a front-of-package nutrition labelling system.

 

What does the new front-of-package (FOP) symbol look like?

French only front-of-package symbol

Horizontal front-of-package label with magnifying glass and words

 

 

 

 

The new FOP symbol is a black and white image of a magnifying glass along with the name(s) of the nutrient(s) of concern – saturated fat, sugars and / or sodium – that are deemed high in the packaged food or beverage. It may appear either as a horizontal or vertical symbol. The FOP symbol may appear on the food package as one bilingual symbol or as two separate symbols in both official languages.

English only front-of-package symbol

French only front-of-package symbol

 

 

 

 

The FOP symbol will always appear on the upper right half of the food package. In the sample chocolate bar below, the symbol indicates that the food is high in saturated fat and sugars.Sample chocolate bar with the front-of-package symbol for high saturated fat and sugars

 

 

 

 

 

Which foods will need to show the FOP symbol?

For most packaged products, the definition of “high” means that the food or beverage contains 15% or more of the Daily Value for saturated fat or sugars and / or sodium per serving.

For example, take a look at the nutrition facts information below for a can of soup. The saturated fat is at 5% DV, the sugars is at 2% DV but the sodium is at 36% DV. So this soup would need to show the front-of-package nutrition symbol with the word sodium to let consumers know that this product is high in sodium.

Nutrition facts table for a can of soup

 

 

Front-of-package symbol for high sodium

Front-of-package symbol needed for the sample can of soup by January 1, 2026

For foods with a small serving size such as salad dressings or pickles, the criteria is 10% DV instead of 15% DV for saturated fat, sugars and sodium. And for pre-packaged main dishes that have a larger serving size, such as a frozen pizza or frozen lasagna, the criteria is 30% DV for those nutrients.

Which foods are exempted from the FOP symbol?

This is a list of some foods which are exempted either because of a recognized health benefit, technical or practical reasons. 

  • Plain fruits and vegetables
  • Plain, unsweetened 2% milk & whole milk
  • Plain cheese and yogurt*
  • Plain nuts / seeds & nut / seed butter
  • Eggs
  • Raw, plain single ingredient meat, poultry & fish, including ground meat
  • Butter, margarine, ghee; Vegetable oils; Sugar, honey, molasses, maple syrup; Salt (e.g. table salt, sea salt, Kosher salt, garlic salt, onion salt, celery salt, etc.) – It would simply be redundant and impractical to put a FOP symbol on these foods.

Any of the foods noted above are no longer exempt if they’re made with an ingredient that contains saturated fat, sugars and / or sodium. For example, a bag of plain salad is exempt from the FOP regulations. But is the bag of salad contains bacon bits and salad dressing, the FOP symbol may apply. Similarly, if salt is added to plain nuts, the FOP symbol may apply.

*Cheese and yogurt made from dairy these foods naturally contain saturated fat, sugars (lactose) and sodium (needed in the cheese-making process). However, these foods contain calcium which is considered a “shortfall nutrient” since many Canadians may not be getting enough and calcium. Any plain cheese or yogurt is only exempt from the FOP symbol if a serving of the food contains at least 15% DV for calcium (or at least 10% DV for calcium in foods with a serving size of 30 grams / 30 mL or less). The ongoing need for this exemption will be reassessed after 10 years.

Other exemptions include:

  • Foods that are only sold at a farmer’s market, flea market, craft show, road-side stand or sugar bush by the person who prepared and processed the product
  • Packaged individual portions of foods that are only intended to be served by a restaurant to accompany a meal or snack, such as coffee creamers or individually packaged crackers often served with soups at restaurants
  • Foods sold in very small packages or with limited display space, such as milk, cream and goat’s milk which are sold in refillable glass containers since there available labelling space is limited to the lid

Pros and Cons

Pros: The FOP symbol will help consumers make informed food choices. In Chile, where a similar FOP labelling system has been in effect since 2016, 92% of consumers said that the FOP label influenced their food purchase. And overall household food purchases in Chile contained 37% less sodium and 27% less sugars.

Another pro is that this new nutrition labelling policy will inspire food companies to reformulate their products. In the next four years, expect to see new and improved products containing less saturated fat, sugars and sodium.

Cons: The FOP symbol could promote a “good food vs bad food” mentality which supports diet culture. Remember that we eat food for more than just nutrition. We eat food for celebration, comfort and connection.

Sue’s advice

Use the new FOP symbol as another tool to help you make informed choices. Read the Nutrition Facts table on the back of the package to see what other nutrients are offered in the food. Look at the ingredients list to determine whether any fat, sugars or sodium have been added to the product. If you happen to occasionally eat a food / beverage that has a FOP symbol, don’t feel guilty or ashamed. All foods can be enjoyed in moderation and fit into a healthy, balanced diet.

 

This article originally appeared on Canadian Food Focus, an excellent resource for information about food and farming.

 

 

Spot the Sugars

New food labels are coming and for the first time, you’ll see a Daily Value (DV) for “Sugars”. Health Canada has set a DV of 100 grams for total sugars. This includes sugars naturally found in foods such as fruits, veggies and unsweetened milk products, plus the sugars added to foods and the sugars found in foods like honey and maple syrup. Packaged foods with a Nutrition Facts table will now show the “Sugars” content as a percent of the 100 grams Daily Value (%DV).

Nutrition Facts table showing % Daily Value for sugars

But do most Canadians know where the sugars are in their foods?

Watch Sue’s fun TV Interview with Ben Mulroney (Co-host of Your Morning) to spot the sugars in different foods or find the interview here.

The Sweet Spot Workshop – with Chef Claire Tansey

Sue cooking with Chef Claire Tansey
Sue with Chef Claire Tansey

I love food! And a big part of my job as a dietitian is to help Canadians love food too! I’m passionate about translating the complex science of nutrition into everyday healthy eating tips that make sense and are easy for people to follow. So when my dietitian colleagues at the Canadian Sugar Institute invited me to a hands-on cooking Sweet Spot Workshop with Chef Claire Tansey, I was excited to learn more!

First, some nutrition background

Recently, Health Canada announced new guidelines for sugars and also some new changes to how sugars will be shown on food labels.

Specifically, for the first time ever, there is a Daily Value for sugars, set at 100 grams. According to Health Canada, 100 grams isn’t meant to be the recommended amount of sugars to consume, but instead it’s an amount of sugars that is consistent with a healthy eating pattern. On food labels, the sugars content of the food will be listed in grams (g) and also as a percent of the Daily Value (% DV) (see below for the “NEW” image of the Nutrition Facts table).

 Now remember that 100 grams is the total from all types of sugars:

  • naturally occurring sugars (like the sugars found in fruit, veggies and unsweetened milk products);
  • added sugars (like different sugars that are added when cooking or processing food); and
  • free sugars (these are added sugars plus sugars that are naturally found in honey, syrups, fruit juices and fruit juice concentrates).
A comparison of the original Nutrition Facts table to the new one. The new one shows a % Daily Value for sugars.
Image source: Health Canada

Now, the food!

So what exactly does 100 grams of sugars look like when it comes to real food? That’s where the Sweet Spot Workshop comes in. Dietitians teamed up at the workshop to make a day’s menu of food – adding up to 100 grams of sugars, staying within the sodium and fat recommendations, and totalling no more than 2,000 calories (the average number of calories needed by an adult). So here’s what we made. All recipes were inspired by Claire’s latest cookbook Uncomplicated.

Breakfast

Instant Bircher Museli – made with oats, unsweetened apple juice, nuts and fresh pears and paired with a single serving of Greek yogurt – 28 g sugars

Lunch

Chilled Cucumber and Sesame Noodles with Tofu – made with soba noodles, maple syrup, sesame oil, cucumbers, tofu and edamame, served with sweet and sour bok choy – 7 g sugars

Snack

Assorted berries and cherries with a fruit / kale Greek yogurt smoothie – 29 g sugars

Dinner

Coconut Chicken Curry – made with chicken, coconut milk, ginger, curry paste, tomatoes and peas, served with steamed broccoli – 7 g sugars

Dessert

Plum-Almond Galette – made with fresh, local plums – 30 g sugars

The bottom line

You can definitely enjoy a variety of healthy meals with a small dessert AND stay within 100 grams of sugars for the day! Enjoy!


Photos by Flora Wang. Disclosure: This post was sponsored by the Registered Dietitians at the Canadian Sugar Institute, and I have received monetary compensation. As always, my own professional opinions and views are expressed.

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!

Nutrition Facts Education Campaign

According to research, food labels are the most trusted source of nutrition information. The % Daily Value (%DV) found on the Nutrition Facts table is a quick and easy tool to help consumers understand if there is a little or a lot of a nutrient. I served as a spokesperson for this educational campaign which was a partnership between Health Canada and Food Consumer Products of Canada. We held a bloggers’ event in March, and I was featured in a number of radio interviews.

Here’s a picture of a “cereal box” (aka old shoe box) that my kids gave me for Mother’s Day when they were four and five years old. It was filled with different types of cereal. They called it “Mama-O’s” and even drew a Nutrition Facts on the back of the box!

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