Healthy eating strategy: questions and answers

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Improving healthy eating

Why is Canada's food guide being revised?

Health Canada wants to ensure that dietary guidance continues to be relevant and useful to Canadians.

We have completed a review of the evidence related to dietary guidance, and while the review revealed that the scientific basis of Canada’s 2007 food guide is generally consistent with the latest evidence on diet and health, there are topics where Health Canada needs to adjust and strengthen our dietary guidance.

We also looked at how various groups of Canadians use the guide, and found that they have trouble understanding and applying certain aspects of the guidance. The current "all-in-one" format is not meeting the needs of all audiences.

What will the new Canada's food guide look like?

The new Canada's food guide will look very different from the current six-page format, and will include multiple resources, as opposed to an all-in-one policy and educational resource, including:

  • a dietary guidance policy report
  • recommendations for healthy eating patterns
  • tools and resources for Canadians

These new resources will help support:

  • health stakeholders in implementing dietary guidance in policies, programs and resources
  • Canadians in applying dietary guidance in their everyday lives

When will the new Canada's food guide resources be available?

The revision of Canada's food guide will be completed in phases.

An online dietary guidance policy report, consisting of general healthy eating recommendations is planned for release in early 2018 along with new visuals, key messages and resources for Canadians.

New healthy eating patterns (types and amounts of foods) are planned for release in early 2019, along with other tools and resources for Canadians.

Who will be engaged in the revision of Canada's food guide?

During the development of the new guide, officials from the Office of Nutrition Policy and Promotion will only seek expert advice from, and consult with, academics, health professional associations, health NGOs, and federal, provincial and territorial officials.

We will conduct open consultations with all stakeholders and Canadians to ensure that the new dietary guidance is useful and relevant.

In fall 2016 we asked Stakeholders and Canadians about their needs and expectations for a revised Canada's Food guide. The Canada's Food Guide Consultation: Phase 1 What We Heard Report summarizes the almost 20,000 responses that we received. From June 10 to July 25, 2017, we are conducting a second open consultation where we are requesting input from stakeholders and interested individuals to provide feedback on the proposed general healthy eating recommendations.

Be informed about consultations on the revision of Canada's food guide by registering for the Consultation and Stakeholder Information Management System. At the 'areas of interest' page, select 'Canada's food guide / Nutrition' under the Food Safety and Nutrition heading.

Protecting vulnerable populations

What are Health Canada's priorities concerning marketing to children?

Protecting the health of children is a priority for the Government of Canada. As stated in the Minister of Health's mandate letter, Health Canada will introduce new restrictions on the commercial marketing of unhealthy food and beverages to children. This will allow us to support families in making better food choices.

The goal is to create an environment supportive of healthy growth and development, where children are protected from the negative influence of marketing.

New regulatory measures to restrict marketing to children will be developed after:

  • a thorough review of the evidence;
  • consultation with experts in the field; and
  • broad public consultation.

What are the factors to consider when examining the issue of restricting junk-food ads that target children?

Developing a policy to restrict the commercial marketing of unhealthy food and beverages to children is complicated. A number of policy issues need to be considered including:

  • the right age limit for the restrictions;
  • the definition of “unhealthy food”, for the purposes of the marketing restrictions;
  • the definition of “child-directed” advertising; and
  • the marketing tactics that should be exempt from restrictions.

Strengthening labelling and claims

Where do sugars in food come from?

All sugars come from plants. They can be naturally occurring in fruit, vegetables and milk, or added to food during manufacturing, preparation or cooking. For example, white sugar is a natural sugar extracted from sugar cane (or sugar beets) and refined before being added as an ingredient to foods.

Does it matter if I get sugars from naturally occurring or added sources?

While added sugars are chemically indistinguishable from naturally occurring sugars, many food and beverages that are major sources of added sugars do not provide other important nutrients, such as vitamins and minerals. Moreover, they may contribute extra calories. Health Canada recommends a healthy eating pattern where most of the sugars come from naturally occurring sources such as fruit, vegetables and milk.

Why did Health Canada not require the declaration of added sugars as part of the new label changes?

Added sugars are ingredients that manufacturers add to their products and that must be declared in the list of ingredients. The Nutrition Facts table declares the amount of nutrients, rather than ingredients. On the Canadian Nutrition Facts table, the amount of added sugars in the food is included in the amount of total sugars, which is consistent with the approach to all other nutrients. Furthermore, laboratory tests cannot distinguish between the naturally-occurring and added sugars.

How will the new labels help Canadians understand the sugars content of their food?

Health Canada has introduced two new labelling measures to help Canadians understand the sugars content of their food.

First, Health Canada is requiring manufacturers to group sugars-based ingredients between parentheses after the name 'sugars'. These include ingredients such as white and brown sugar, honey, molasses and syrups, and less familiar ingredients such as agave nectar and barley malt extract. Because ingredients are listed in decreasing order of their weight, this new measure, which is unique to Canadian food labels, will be a more transparent way of not only identifying sources of sugars added to the food, but also relatively how much they contribute to the total composition of the food compared to other ingredients.

Second, Health Canada is requiring the declaration of the percent Daily Value (% DV) for the amount of total sugars in the Nutrition Facts table based on 100 grams. This value is not a recommended level of intake, but rather the amount of total sugars that is consistent with a healthy eating pattern, i.e. a diet where sugars come mostly from fruit, vegetables and milk. To help consumers better use the % DV, Health Canada now also requires that a new footnote appears at the bottom of the Nutrition Facts table that says whether a serving of food contains a little or a lot of sugars. Foods that contain a lot of sugars include soft drinks, fruit juice, sweet baked goods, chocolate bars, flavoured milk and yoghurt and some breakfast cereals. These foods are among the top sources of sugars in the Canadian diet.

Together, these two measures will help Canadians better understand the sugars content of their food and manage their sugars intake.

What additional information is Health Canada proposing to give consumers on sugars?

In addition to the two new measures described above, Health Canada is consulting the public and stakeholders on a new labelling approach on the front of the package that would identify foods that are high in sugars, sodium, and / or saturated fat. This proposed new measure would complement and address some of the limitations of the information in the Nutrition Facts table and list of ingredients. For example, through the use of symbols that are easy to see and understand, consumers could more easily identify foods that are high in sugars, sodium, and /or saturated fat.

What is front-of-package (FOP) nutrition labelling

FOP nutrition labelling commonly refers to simplified nutrition information that can be easily seen and interpreted by consumers on the front of food packages or shopping aisle shelf tags.

Why is Health Canada considering front-of-package (FOP) nutrition labelling?

Chronic diseases are a major public health concern in Canada. Diet, particularly a diet high in sodium, sugars, and saturated fat, is one of the top risk factors for chronic diseases, and Canadians consume too much of these nutrients.

While the Nutrition Facts table provides valuable healthy eating information to consumers, it is not sufficient to protect Canadians from the health risks related to the excess consumption of these nutrients.  This is particularly true when time or motivation is limited and when only positive attributes of the food are displayed on the front of the package, the first site of interaction between consumers and a food product. Additionally, the Nutrition Facts table can be complex for some consumers to understand and use. FOP nutrition labelling will provide quick and easy interpretation of the levels of sugars, sodium and saturated fat in food products to help Canadians make healthier choices. 

What is Health Canada proposing with respect to front-of-package (FOP) nutrition labelling?

Health Canada is proposing to require a symbol on the front of pre-packaged foods that contain or exceed 15% of the Daily Value for sodium, sugars, and/or saturated fat.

Why is Health Canada giving industry 5 years to change the labels?

The food industry is able to change the labels on their products immediately. However, there are a number of label changes that the food industry will be required to make over the coming years, including changes to the Nutrition Facts table, the list of ingredients, nutrition information on the front of package, as well as, changes that are currently proposed the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. The five year transition would therefore minimize the number of times companies, especially small companies, will need to make changes to their labels.

Improving nutrition quality standards

What are Health Canada's plans to evaluate industry's voluntary efforts in reducing sodium levels in processed foods?

In 2012, the food industry was asked to meet voluntary sodium reduction targets by December 31, 2016 for 94 categories of processed foods. Health Canada is currently undertaking a full and comprehensive evaluation of industry's voluntary efforts to meet those targets. This information will then be matched with data from the 2015 Canadian Community Health Survey to assess how Canadian's intake of sodium has changed since 2010. The results from these assessments will be published for all interested stakeholders to review.

Will Health Canada introduce regulations to reduce the levels of sodium in processed foods?

Health Canada is currently assessing the progress of the food industry in meeting the voluntary sodium reduction targets and will determine how the sodium intake of Canadians has moved over the past six years. Work is also starting on reducing sodium in foods served in restaurants and foodservice establishments.

In January 2017, a public consultation closed on a proposed front-of-package (FOP) nutrition labelling symbol for prepackaged foods high in saturated fats, sugars and/or sodium. Results of that consultation will inform a regulatory package for a mandatory FOP nutrition symbol expected to be published in Part I of the Canada Gazette in fall 2017. The symbol will help consumers identify foods high in the three nutrients of public health concern, and may also encourage industry to reformulate foods to decrease the amount of these three nutrients.

What is Health Canada doing to eliminate industrial trans fat from foods?

On September 15, 2017, Health Canada published the Notice of Modification: Prohibiting the Use of Partially Hydrogenated Oils (PHOs) in Foods (Ref. No. NOM/ADM-C-2017-3) confirming its decision to move forward with implementing a prohibition on the use of PHOs – the primary source of industrially produced trans fats – by adding them to Part 1 of the List of Contaminants and Other Adulterating Substances in Foods (the List).

This final decision was reached following consultations held between November 14, 2016 and January 13, 2017 as well as between April 7, 2017 and June 21, 2017. The prohibition will take effect the day on which PHOs are added to the List, which Health Canada will be amending 12 months from the date of publication of the Notice of Modification.

Proceeding with prohibiting the use of PHOs in foods will effectively reduce trans fats in the food supply to the lowest level possible. It will also help achieve the public health objective of reducing trans fat intake by the great majority of Canadians to less than 1% of total energy intake. Achieving this public health objective is expected to help reduce the risk of coronary heart disease among the general population.

Our healthy eating strategy

How can I stay informed about consultations related to the healthy eating strategy?

Be informed about consultations related to the healthy eating strategy by registering for the Consultation and Stakeholder Information Management System. At the 'areas of interest' page, be sure to select 'Canada's food guide / Nutrition’ as well as ‘Food labelling and Packaging’ under the ‘Food Safety and Nutrition’ heading.

Are there changes to the way Health Canada will consult on healthy eating initiatives?

The Government of Canada is committed to openness and transparency. Health Canada is supporting this commitment by:

  • making more information available to Canadians
  • providing more opportunities to participate in discussions on government policies and priorities.

Formal written submissions in response to this consultation will continue to be summarized in reports that will be made publicly available, such as a:

  • Summary of Comments
  • What we heard report.

All other correspondence and all meetings with stakeholders are being published monthly online in list format, including the:

  • organization name
  • date
  • subject
  • purpose of the meeting
  • title of any documents provided during meetings

This includes correspondence and meetings related to healthy eating initiatives in which opinions, information, and requests for information are communicated with the intent to inform the development of:

  • policies
  • guidance
  • regulations

Learn more about Health Canada's approach to openness and transparency.

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