Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


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Follow Friday: @HealthCanada consultations

TGIF fellow Canucks and happy early Canada Day!

Want to contribute to helping to make our country healthier? Now’s your chance to have your say. Health Canada has a couple of consultations open until July 25th.

Not a fan of Canada’s Food Guide? Make it better. Give your feedback on the new healthy eating recommendations at foodguideconsultation.ca. I know that I had lots to say but lucky for you, I can’t remember it anymore so you’re on your own.

Think we should stop marketing to kids? I sure do. Give your feedback at healthyeatingconsultations.ca. Pretty much every response I gave was that they should not allow any marketing to kids. I approve of the age range they give (17 and under) but I don’t think that the ban goes far enough. Marketing of “healthy” foods is problematic as it can promote overeating. It also raises the issue of how to appropriately define healthy. I definitely don’t agree with the proposal to allow marketing of things like goldfish crackers and potato chips and french fries – WTF Health Canada!? For more about my thoughts on marketing healthy foods to kids check out this older blog post. For more about marketing to kids in general, check out stopmarketingtokids.ca. Also, I love the campaign by Irish Heart. The video at the start of this post is just one of their great ads.

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Of logical fallacies and opinion pieces

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I wrote the following in response to this Postmedia opinion piece that was published a couple of weeks ago. I did send it to them in the hopes that they would publish it. Unfortunately, I never received a response so onto the blog it goes!

In reading the Point of View Focus on food costs, not advertising bans from Postmedia Network I couldn’t help but wonder if it was written solely to elicit reaction. After all, who could genuinely be opposed to revamping Canada’s Food Guide so that it’s more user-friendly and based on the most current scientific evidence? Who could be opposed to banning advertising of unhealthy foods to children?

The writer sets-up the issue as a false dichotomy. The reader is left feeling that in order to be supportive of efforts to improve food access in the North that they must be opposed to efforts to improve nutrition labelling across Canada, revise the Food Guide, and ban food advertising to children. This is not the case. These are all important issues facing our country and to support some of them does not mean that you are opposed to others. Bringing up the lack of access to affordable food in Northern Canada is a logical fallacy. It’s irrelevant to the matter at hand and only serves to derail the conversation. 

Despite what the author says, the government would not be “pre-empting the work parents have traditionally done, which is watching their children’s diets all by themselves” by implementing a ban on advertising of unhealthy food to children. In fact, the government would simply be supporting parental efforts to foster healthy eating habits in their children through such a ban. With the majority of Canadian children not meeting current minimum recommendations for consumption of vegetables and fruit, clearly the current method of allowing food companies to market to children while parents attempt to fend off the never-ending flow of food marketing is not working. The effectiveness of the advertising ban in Quebec shows that such bans can encourage healthier eating habits in children. Such a ban does not remove the role of parents; it simply supports their efforts to raise healthy eaters.

As for Canada’s Food Guide, many criticisms have been launched against it over the years. However, it’s an important tool for dietitians and teachers to promote healthy eating patterns in children and adults. Unfortunately, the criticisms of The Guide have served to cause many to disregard all of the guidance contained within. Revising The Guide to reflect the most current scientific evidence and responding to public and educator concerns will help to make it a more effective tool, and thus, improve the eating habits of Canadians.

As a registered dietitian, I applaud the efforts of our government to provide a healthier food environment for Canadian children and to promote healthy eating habits among Canadians of all ages. I also encourage the government to address issues of food access and affordability across the country through measures such as increased access to affordable fresh vegetables and fruit, basic income guarantee, and living wages.


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Follow Friday: Canada’s Food Guide Revision

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FINALLY Health Canada has announced plans to update Canada’s Food Guide. I know that you all have opinions about it so now’s your chance to make them heard. Go complete their survey now so that your thoughts will be considered.

There are many criticisms of the Food Guide but it really is a useful tool for group nutrition education. Let’s make it a better, evidence-based tool to guide Canadians in making healthy food choices in the future.


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Does adding the percent daily value to the nutrition label add value or confusion?

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The news broke the other day that, despite calls from the public, Health Canada will not be revising the nutrition facts panel to include added sugars. According to our current health minister, one of the most “significant” changes will be the inclusion of a percent daily value for sugar.

Despite the lack of evidence for a specific recommendation for sugar intake (either added or naturally occurring) the percent daily value will be based on a total of 100 grams of sugar (approximately 25 teaspoons). This kind of blows my mind. I think that it’s absurd to make numerical recommendations for nutrients to people when we don’t know how much people can (or should) safely consume. Everyone’s all up in arms about sugar being toxic and the root of obesity which, if you read this blog regularly, you know I think is melodramatic at best, misguided fear mongering at worst. So, how exactly are we making recommendations for total sugar intake when we don’t know what that should look like?

Another dietitian on twitter pointed out to me that the percent daily value is not a recommended amount to consume. Rather, it’s a tool to help people make healthy choices. A percent daily value of less than 5% is “a little”, while more than 15% is “a lot”. Yes, that’s how we’ve tried to frame the confusing percent daily value in recent years but I wonder, is that really how most people use it? And, considering that technically percent daily value is based on the recommended nutrient consumption for an “average” 2, 000 calorie diet, wouldn’t that mean that the arbitrary 100 grams of sugar be either a quantity to aim for or at least a maximum to stay under? Personally, I’d prefer to see the percent daily value removed from the nutrition facts panel rather than the addition of a %DV for total sugar.

Of course, beyond the addition of fairly useless information, Health Canada won’t be adding the more useful information that we were all screaming for. Nope, if you want to know if your food has added sugar in it then you’ll have to check the ingredient list (often preferable to the nutrition facts panel anyway but much more time consuming). Look for all of the usual suspects (e.g. anything ending in “ose”, sugar (duh), molasses, honey, syrup, fruit juice or puree, etc). Ideally, you want most of the sugar you consume to be naturally occurring so your food might not have an ingredient list (like an apple) or it might contain sugar but not have any sugars in the ingredients (like plain yoghurt). Limiting the number of pre-made foods you consume may mean that you spend more time in the kitchen but it will save you time reading labels in the grocery store and likely give you more healthy years to enjoy your life.


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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).