June 14, 2015 - 8:25 AM
TORONTO - Health Canada is proposing redesigned nutrition labels that would highlight when food products contain a lot of sugar.
The new labelling rules would also standardize serving sizes to make it easier for consumers to compare nutrient contents of similar products.
The proposed changes come in response to criticism from consumers, dietitians and health professionals that current labels are difficult to decipher and inconsistent. But an Ottawa obesity expert said the redrawn nutrition facts template doesn't go far enough when it comes to added sugars.
"If our old nutrition fact panel labels were graded I'd probably grade them about a D+ and I'd give these ones about a C+," said Yoni Freedhoff, medical director of the Bariatric Medical Institute.
"They're certainly far from good and they're extremely far from great.... Diet-related illnesses and chronic non-communicable diseases are rising dramatically in this country and this is a country where we pay for their impact, all of us, with our taxes.
"These are not bold changes. Given the nature and degree of the problem that we are seeing from diet- and weight-related illnesses we kind of need bold."
The new labels would cite the per cent daily value (% DV) of sugar per portion, with a guideline stating that under five per cent is "a little" and 15 per cent or more is "a lot."
The World Health Organization recommends limiting daily intake of added sugars to less than 10 per cent of total energy intake. A further reduction to below five per cent or roughly 25 grams (six teaspoons) per day would provide additional health benefits, the WHO says.
The new standard would also group all sugars together in the ingredient list, ordering them by weight from most to least.
In a typical granola bar, agave nectar, brown sugar and brown rice syrup — all different types of sugar — might be dispersed throughout the ingredient list.
"But in this framework, this new proposal where we group them together ... (they) will now move up and be in the first one or two ingredients for many products," said registered dietitian Kate Comeau, spokeswoman for Dietitians of Canada.
Serving sizes would be standardized and based on an amount usually eaten, making it easier to hold products side by side and compare nutrition. One serving of bread would be two slices since most people eat that in a sandwich.
"But that would be two servings of grains from Canada's Food Guide," Comeau pointed out.
"So there is a risk that people misinterpret that information and consider that a serving is both slices. So there is that little bit of a disconnect between Canada's Food Guide and the new amounts that will be used on the label.
"But certainly in terms of comparing products this is a big step."
The new labelling would also add potassium because it's important for maintaining healthy blood pressure and most Canadians don't get enough of it. Vitamins A and C would be removed because most Canadians ingest enough with a few daily servings of fruit and vegetables.
Manufacturers would be required to list food colouring agents by their common names within the ingredient list, which would help consumers with sensitivities to avoid them. Changes would also apply to any "contains" statements, indicating the presence or potential presence of priority food allergens, gluten sources and added sulphites.
Comeau also thinks proposed legibility changes are an improvement, particularly for people with lower literacy levels or poor eyesight. Ingredient lists would have to be printed with black or dark lettering on a white background, in a mix of uppercase and lowercase letters.
The proposed changes are the result of feedback from more than 10,000 Canadians — including parents, consumers, members of health organizations and the food industry — submitted last year.
Canadians will be able to comment on the proposed regulatory changes until Aug. 26.
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News from © The Canadian Press, 2015