The labels they are a changin’

Amanda O'Brien
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The federal government is proposing some major changes to the current nutrition facts tables which appear on packaged foods. The projected changes will make labels easier to understand and contain more useful info for consumers on nutrients like added sugar, potassium, vitamin D and adjusted serving sizes

Here’s an overview of what is likely to change.

The format of the table is going to be easier to read and emphasize certain elements that are important to Canadians.

Calories will be identified at the top of the table and followed by other nutrients that many people try to limit, like saturated and trans fats and added sugars (under carbohydrates). Listed underneath those will be nutrients that people may want to have more of.

New additions to the table will include potassium and vitamin D — nutrients that many in the Canadian population are not getting enough of, which puts them at higher risk for chronic disease.

Vitamin D is important for its role in bone health and potassium being good for lowering blood pressure. In addition to this, vitamins A and C would no longer be on the label as there is no evidence of a deficiency of these vitamins in the general population.

As a new edition to the table, total sugars, saturated fat, trans fat, vitamin D and potassium are each to have their own Percentage Daily Value (%DV) to help consumers identify if there is a little or a lot of a particular nutrient in the product.

When it comes to the %DV, five per cent or less is a little of a nutrient and 15 per cent of more of the %DV is a lot.

This message would be added at the bottom of the nutrition facts table, as a reminder to people on how to use %DV correctly.

There are some other subtle changes proposed to the layout of the nutrition facts table, too, essentially making it easier for consumers to understand and easily find the information they are looking for.

Of all the proposed changes, adjustment of serving size has to be my favourite.

The current serving size on tables is not a suggestion of how much to eat (although many people do report using it as such), but rather a common household measure.

Currently there is no regulation, but rather suggestion, for what serving size should be on the facts table.

You’ve likely noticed this before if you’re a label reader.

One serving may be specified as one slice of bread or two slices of bread — each slice with likely a different weight also (consider the difference between Weight Watchers bread and Texas toast).

Serving sizes declared in the nutrition facts table are proposed to be more consistent among similar food products and based on the most current information on the amounts of food that Canadians actually eat in one sitting.  

Next to the nutrition facts table, the ingredient list on foods is another source of valuable nutrition information.

This is suggested to change, too. Currently the list contains valuable information like the components of the product by weight from most to least, and potential allergens in foods.

The big changes here are to how the list will be viewed. It is going to have a consistent look and appear in a distinctive box with a title, using black type on a white or neutral background for contrast, using upper and lower case letters, and having a minimum font size.

What are your thoughts to these proposed changes?

Is there something else you think should be included within the changes that hasn’t been included?

Health Canada is encouraging anyone with feedback or comments on the proposed changes to nutrition labelling to comment here

Amanda O’Brien is a registered dietitian in St. John’s. Contact her through the website:

Organizations: Health Canada

Geographic location: Texas

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