Get the facts on proposed changes to nutrition labeling regulations

The nutrition facts panel is a useful tool to help Canadians make better choices in your grocery aisles.

But it is not without its challenges: many Canadians still cite difficulty using the panel and understanding all the information displayed. Some health professionals have also called for changes, in particular that the % Daily Value tool is based on out of date recommendations.

In response, Health Canada recently announced a public consultation period that will see the way food manufacturers declare nutrition facts change. Until September 11, you have the opportunity to weigh in on how the proposed changes will affect you, so here is what you need to know about what is being proposed.

1. The new labels will make it easier to compare across products.

One of the proposed changes will see manufacturers using a standardized serving size across a single category. Make a breakfast cereal? Currently, serving sizes can be anywhere from 1/3 cup to 1 1/4 cups – making it difficult to compare between products for consumers. In the future, Health Canada will have cereals, crackers, bread products and yogurt declare a single serving size. In addition, single serve containers that are larger than the standardized serving size will have to declare nutrition facts for the whole package. This will help Canadians understand how much they are actually consuming as opposed to getting duped by the fine print of serving size.

2. The new labels will make it harder to hide added sugars.

This new change is likely the most controversial, given the amount of sweeteners added to most foods in Canada. The proposal will have manufacturers differentiate between sugars that are naturally occurring from foods such as milk or fruit and the sugars that are added to the food, be they fruit juice concentrate, sugar or honey. The proposed change will also have all sugars within a food gathered under a single listing in the ingredients panel. Finally, Health Canada is proposing a limit on added sugars to structure a % Daily Value for the nutrient: 100 grams per day. I think that this is far too generous but it is likely to make the manufacturers of sweetened foods happy. 100 grams of sugar is the equivalent of three cans of cola.

3. The structure of the new labels will have nutrients to limit or watch up front.

The calorie count will be larger and bolded on the proposed new labels. Nutrients of concern, such as fat, sodium and sugar will take centre stage, placed directly under the calories line. Nutrients to focus on getting more of  – such as fibre, protein and calcium – will come last. Potassium, a key mineral for heart health, will now be declared.

4. The % Daily Value will get an update and be explained on the new panel.

The intention of the %DV listing has always been one of comparison. With serving sizes being standardized, now it may become more useful. The reference values are being updated to fall in line with current, evidence-based nutrient recommendations. One of the biggest challenges with %DV is that consumers didn’t really know if 10% DV was a good thing or a bad thing. So the proposed new label will see a small definition of %DV for reference. Hopefully, this will help Canadians see that a small cup of soup that provides 120% of your daily sodium budget is not a great choice.

Overall, I think that the new changes are a step in the right direction to help Canadians make better choices. What do you think?

Learn more on the Health Canada website: