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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.

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

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.

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.

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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