Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving

Nutrition labels are getting a makeover – Have your say!

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Big news announcement from Health Canada yesterday: proposed new nutrition label guidelines are available for viewing and input

For once, I think that Health Canada is heading in the right direction with these labels. The key (proposed) changes are:

Improved new serving size guidelines

This will ensure that similar products will have to use similar serving sizes; thus, making comparisons easier. For example, all bread will have to use two slices as the serving size, and all yoghurt will have to use 175 grams. Of course, you’ll still have to do some math if the amount you normally eat differs from the serving size used on the package, but at least you won’t have to do algebra to determine which tub of yoghurt is the healthier choice. One thing I wonder about this change for the yoghurt is how it will affect those “single serve” tubs that are only 100 grams. Will they have to list their nutrition information as 175 grams? So you’ll still have to do math if you’re not planning on eating 1 and 3/4 tubs of yoghurt? I also wonder about products that currently list serving sizes that don’t match with what you would actually eat. For example, I’ve seen some packages of “bites” that contain 5 bites but the serving size is based on 1/6th of the package. I hope that this is something that will no longer be allowed when the new guidelines are approved.

Improved sugar disclosure

I love that they are proposing listing all sugars (e.g. fructose, honey, rice syrup, glucose, evaporated cane juice, etc) together in parentheses on the label following the listing of “sugar”. Of course, this will make it more difficult to determine where (based on weight) the different forms of sugar fall in the list but it helps prevent the current sneaky tactic by food manufacturers of putting in multiple types of sugar scattered throughout the ingredient list. I can’t help but wonder how they’ll address the issue of sneaky sweeteners like fruit puree and fruit juice concentrate. I hope that they’ll list those along-side the other sugars and that they’ll count them in the new “added sugars” line on the nutrition facts panel. I worry that this may be a bit of a loophole for food manufacturers trying to healthwash their products if it’s not required to be listed as sugar.

I’m not sure how I feel about the application of the “5% is a little, 15% is a lot” guide to Daily Values in relation to sugar, and other nutrients. Health Canada uses 100 grams (about 25 teaspoons) of sugar as the amount to calculate the percent daily value. I think that many people look at the %DV as an amount to shoot for. In some cases this is true. In others, it’s more of a maximum (e.g. sodium), and in others, a minimum (e.g. vitamin D). The current figures used for the %DV are also outdated and it’s great to see that Health Canada is proposing that we update those.

Appearance of the Nutrition Facts panel and ingredients list

There’s nothing really wrong with the new design. I definitely like what they’re proposing for the ingredients list. However, I would like to see the Nutrition Facts panel in a different sequence. I’d prefer to see the macronutrients (fat, protein, and carbohydrate) in the upper panel (i.e. directly underneath the calories), with any relevant breakdown directly beneath. I think that the sugar, added sugar, and fibre should all be listed under the carbohydrate header. Listing the trans and saturated fat under the fat header is good but maybe we could go a step further and add mono- and poly-unsaturated fat as well.

Micronutrients of concern should be listed in the second section of the panel. I’m not sure about cholesterol and sodium. Dietary cholesterol really isn’t all that relevant; sodium definitely is for many people though. I think that they should either be lumped in with the micronutrients or placed in their own section. I know that we can’t include every micronutrient, and I love the addition of potassium, but I question the removal of vitamins A and C (1). Most Canadians don’t meet their needs for magnesium either so I think that this might be a useful nutrient to add. With the increased popularity of sea salt I wonder if it might be prudent to add iodine to the panel. I’m going to stop there before I disappear down a micronutrient wormhole.

It’s important to note that these are proposed changes. If you want these changes to happen, or if you want to see additional or different changes you need to provide your input to Health Canada (first link in this post).

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Author: Diana

I'm a registered dietitian from Nova Scotia, living and working in Ontario, Canada. My goal is to help people relearn how to have a healthy relationship with food.

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