The ‘bitter-sweet’ truth about Canada’s new food labels

 In Feature, Healthy Eating, Weight Management

On December 14th, Canada announced their finalization of Canada’s food labels – with a sneak peak. As a health provider and stakeholder, I had taken part in the surveys, and given my expert advice on what needed to change. Canada's proposed new food label changes - a dietitian review of sugar labelling and the issues surrounding the changes | Ignite Nutrition Andrea Hardy is a registered dietitian nutritionist from Calgary Alberta retrieved December 17th 2016 from: http://healthycanadians.gc.ca/health-system-systeme-sante/consultations/food-label-etiquette-des-aliments/process-processus-eng.php There have been some positive label and facts table changes:

  • %DV explanation and how consumers can use it (practical).
  • Overhaul on allergens – listing common allergens separately,
  • listing all sources of sugar together on the ingredients list
  • cracking down on regulating serving sizes

However, a glaringly obvious problem, one which I think impacts Canadians much more than calories. The problem is added sugar. Simply put, Canadians NEED to know how much sugar is added, vs naturally occurring to make the healthiest choice. Canadians NEED to know how much sugar is added, vs naturally occurring to make the healthiest choice. Click To Tweet The label continues to list sugar in it’s entirety. Which, for those of you who haven’t thought of it, might ask WHY it is SO important for Canadians to know the difference between added and naturally occurring sugar. I’m sure it’s no surprise: Canadians consume WAY too much sugar. Call it what you want it, industry. Sugar, high fructose corn syrup, agave, etc. Sugar is sugar is sugar when it comes the consumption of these empty calories. We know this. From candy, to soda, to flavoured yogurt, to granola bars and cereals – added sugar, or as WHO is calling it – ‘free sugar’ –  is in EVERYTHING. And the problem is, these foods often have health claims. So while your oh-so-virtuous cholesterol lowering oats may, in fact, have fibre that does just that – often times, they’re chock-full of added sugars. Talk about negating effects.

Practical implications – What this means for consumers

When a client comes to me, I must find a way to teach them some critical thinking skills, sleuthing, and somehow imprint on them my 10 years plus of nutrition education, food science, and practical knowledge into determining just how much added sugar might be in their food product. And even then, It’s a bit of a guess. The way sugar is currently labelled in Canada is confusing. Canadians want to cut down on ADDED sugar, not naturally occurring – so why don’t we give them the tools to do that? The way sugar is labelled is confusing. Canadians want to cut down on ADDED sugar, so why don’t we give them the tools to do that? Click To Tweet

Let’s look at milk, for a simple label reading example.

I had a client who was cutting down on free sugars for gut health read a milk nutrition facts table, and absolutely DIE over the fact that it had 14 grams of sugar. As a consumer, sugar is sugar is sugar. How are they to know without 4 years of food science under their belt? They’ve never been taught to differentiate naturally occurring sugars, from added. And why would they? Our labels certainly don’t set them up to do so. I then had to explain that sugar from milk was in fact lactose, and naturally occurring. Ergo – it was ok in this particular clients situation. Naturally occurring sugars happen most commonly in milk products, fruit, and products that contain those ingredients. I then had to move onto the yogurt example, as I find this the most clarifying for consumers. This is how that exercise goes:

  1. Take a peek at a small container of plain yogurt, vs. flavoured.
  2. Compare the labels.
  3. 4 grams of sugar in the plain, vs. 10 grams of sugar in the flavoured.
  4. Oh, and don’t forget to check the ingredients to make sure no sugar is added to the plain, so you know if there’s a chance you’re off and both have added sugars – not necessarily what you want, and most importantly, no real way to determine how much.

UH ya. I get how you feel after reading that paragraph. Confused? Like this is a LOT of work?

Good nutrition facts tables are supposed to reduce barriers to Canadians eating healthy. 

Good nutrition facts tables are supposed to reduce barriers to Canadians eating healthy. #consumerconfusion Click To Tweet

And GUYS! Yogurt is the simplest example.

You get into packaged products, especially things like granola bars – some use whole fruit, like dates, and have 20 grams of sugar, but might be ALL naturally occurring from the use of whole dates. Some have 15 grams of sugar, but it might be free sugars be from honey, brown rice syrup, and agave – all added sugars. I sure as hell would rather my clients consume sugar from a whole fruit (think fibre, vitamins minerals), over sugar from syrups (lacking nutritional value). It’s impossible for them to differentiate what might be the better choice in this situation – unless they do some serious sleuthing – or ya know, dial-a-dietitian in the grocery store and ask. If we’re spending a ton of tax payer dollars to re-vamp the labels, why are we moving ahead with doing it half-assed? If we’re spending a ton of tax payer dollars to re-vamp the labels, why are we moving ahead and doing it half-assed? Click To Tweet It opens the door to MAJOR criticism. Industry influence? Of COURSE. Industry is a predominant voice at the table when we’re talking health of Canadians. Soda companies and those at the table representing sugar don’t want you to know about their 40 grams of ADDED sugar (40%DV in one can of pop, ya’ll) – they want to sugar coat it – pun intended. Is it irresponsible for the Canadian government, who vows to improve the health of Canadians and reduce the burden chronic disease, to allow industry to have a say in what health information Canadians need on the label. Their perspective is biased. You can read more about policy and industry from my girl, Emma Train dietitian from In Your Face Nutrition, that Canada is, yet again, BEHIND the times.

Keeping up with the Kardashians USA

Look at all the criticism around the food guide! Dietitians aren’t proud of it, Canadians don’t use it, and everyone is talking about how the US has a better system with their healthy plate. Again with the label overhaul, the US is ahead of the times – having NO PROBLEM identifying added sugar – and Canadians are going to take notice.

Why can the US label added sugar, and Canada can’t? 

Canada's proposed new food label changes don't stack up to the US labelling mandate - a dietitian review of sugar labelling and the issues surrounding the changes | Ignite Nutrition Andrea Hardy is a registered dietitian nutritionist from Calgary Alberta retrieved from: http://www.fda.gov/Food/GuidanceRegulation/GuidanceDocumentsRegulatoryInformation/LabelingNutrition/ucm385663.htm#images Why can the US label added sugar, and Canada can’t? @janephilpott #healthcanada #addedsugar #consumerconfusion Click To Tweet I say measure twice, and cut once, Canada. Back to the drawing board to do it right.

If you feel strongly about this – PLEASE hop on HERE to sign our petition to make a change!

Questions? Comment, or email me!

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