Health Canada proposes new nutrition labels; new DV for total sugar deemed unhelpful

June 13, 2015 in Healthy Eating, Nutrition Labeling, Nutrition Topics in the News

Health Canada proposes new nutrition labels; new DV for total sugar deemed unhelpful

Yesterday, Canada’s Minister of Health, unveiled proposed changes to nutritional labelling regulations in an effort to help Canadians make healthier food choices.

The proposed labelling changes include:

  • Consistent serving sizes to make it easier to compare the nutrient content of similar foods.
  • An easier to read ingredient list.
  • Manufacturers would list all food colouring agents by their common name within the ingredient list.
  • Adding a percentage daily value for total sugar (refined sugars + natural sugars found in fruit and milk). A daily value of 5% or less is considered a little; a daily value of 15% or more is a lot.
  • Grouping all added sugars together on the list of ingredients to make it easier to understand how much refined sugar is in a product.
  • Updating the percentage daily values for nutrients to reflect current scientific knowledge.

The Health Minister also announced new public education tools, including a My Food Guide mobile application and the Eat Well Plate, to help Canadians apply the dietary guidance of Canada’s Food Guide to build a healthy meal.

The Eat Well Plate is intended to help Canadians visualize food proportions and encourage them to make half their plate vegetables and fruit.

This labelling proposal delivers on a commitment made by the Government of Canada during the 2013 Speech from the Throne to consult with Canadians parents and consumers on how to improve the way nutrition information is presented on food labels.
Canadians will be consulted on the proposed regulatory changes to the nutrition information on food labels for a 75-day comment period, ending on August 26.  These changes are being published in Canada Gazette, Part I on June 13, 2015.

The Centre for Science in the Public Interest, an independent health advocacy organization with offices in Ottawa and Washington DC, says these proposed label reforms would have a “puny impact” – a one per cent decline – in nutrition-related illness by 2031.

In a statement released yesterday, Bill Jeffery, LLB, National Coordinator of the Centre for Science in the Public Interest stated:

The proposal punts the question of whether label sodium numbers should be based on advice from its own Sodium Working Group (a 1,500 mg daily target instead of the 2,400 mg now used on labels).  It [Health Canada] proposes sugar label changes that would portray foods like Kellogg’s Froot Loops and Nutella chocolate spread as not “high in sugar”.  And the Government dropped the idea of labelling the amounts of added sugars altogether,  plainly a victory for manufacturers of sugar-sweetened processed  foods.  The proposal also tweaks label disclosure rules for food colours, but fails to outright ban or even warn parents of the health risks of synthetic dyes (they exacerbate symptoms of hyperactivity in thousands of children) even though they are only used for cosmetic purposes and even added to trick children and parents into thinking those foods have real fruits in them.  (To its small credit, proposed formatting rules for ingredient lists would help address a real irritant for some consumers.)

While some proposed changes are steps in the right direction for helping Canadians make better sense of food labels and choosing healthier foods, others are not.

Many nutrition experts, myself included, are disappointed the new proposed labels would not distinguish between naturally occurring sugars (e.g. fruit and milk sugars) and added sugars (e.g. high fructose corn syrup, cane sugar, molasses, brown rice syrup, and so on).

Under the proposed changes, the daily value for total sugars (refined plus naturally-occurring) would be 100 grams (25 teaspoons).  Earlier this year, the World Health Association (WHO) recommended a daily limit of 50 grams for added (not total) sugars. Many experts feel that Health Canada should follow suit and include a line for “added sugars” in the Nutrition Facts table. Doing so would give Canadians more information to help them select foods with fewer grams of refined sugar, something that many of us are trying hard to do.

According to Rosie Schwartz, Registered Dietitian and author, Health Canada’s proposed Daily Value for total sugars could “discourage you from eating foods like berries, mangoes and plain yogurt where these natural sugars are found along with a bounty of other nutrients”. Under Health Canada’s proposed label, a package of frozen mangos with no sugar added would have a Daily Value for total sugar around 20%, which would be considered a lot of sugar. Is Health Canada telling us not to eat fruit because of its natural sugar content? You’d also find a high Daily Value for total sugar on labels for plain yogurt, milk and canned fruit in its own juice.

Schwartz asks, “Shouldn’t the new labels also single out added sugars? Why not have a per cent daily value for added sugars that goes along with what WHO advises we aim for?”

Canadians are invited to provide comments to the Canada Gazette, Part I consultation by August 26, 2015. To voice your comments, send an email or write to Health Canada
Office of Legislative and Regulatory Modernization
Policy, Planning and International Affairs Directorate
Address locator: 3105A 
1600 Scott Street, Ottawa, ON K1A 0K9.

All research on this web site is the property of Leslie Beck Nutrition Consulting Inc. and is protected by copyright. Keep in mind that research on these matters continues daily and is subject to change. The information presented is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. It is intended to provide ongoing support of your healthy lifestyle practices.