Healthy eating strategy: questions and answers

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Why is Canada's food guide being revised?

Health Canada recently published an evidence review for dietary guidance and examined the implications for the food guide. While much of the science is current, we need to address some new scientific evidence and strengthen how we communicate our guidance on healthy eating. For example, there is new evidence that replacing saturated fat with unsaturated fat lowers the risk of heart disease.

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.

This revision will transform how dietary guidance is communicated to be relevant and useful to Canadians.

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

The new Canada's food guide 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 recommendations 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 and supporting key messages and resources for Canadians are planned for release in late 2017.

New healthy eating patterns (types and amounts of foods) are planned for release in late 2018. Additional resources for the public will be released at the same time.

Who will be engaged in the revision of the food guide?

During the development of the new guide, officials from the Office of Nutrition Policy and Promotion will seek expert advice only 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.

Our first public consultation is an online questionnaire, available from October 24 to December 8, 2016. A second online consultation will be conducted in late spring 2017.

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.'

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 beets (or sugar cane) and refined before being added as an ingredient to foods.

Are added sugars digested and absorbed more quickly than naturally-occurring sugars?

The digestion and absorption of sugars depends on the food in which it is present rather than whether they are naturally occurring or added. For example, when sugars are trapped within the cell structure of a food such as an apple, it takes more time for digestive enzymes to break down the food and release the sugar. On the other hand, sugars that are naturally present in fruit juice or sugars added to food and beverages are usually digested and absorbed faster by the body.

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 currently 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 would more easily identify foods that are high in sugars, sodium, 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.

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

Front-of-package nutrition labelling commonly refers to simplified nutrition information that can be easily seen and interpreted by consumers on:

  • the front of food packages
  • shopping aisle shelf tags

During the nutrition labelling consultations in 2014 and 2015, consumers and public health advocates expressed interest in front-of-package labelling to:

  • complement the nutrition facts table
  • help present nutrition information in a simpler way on food labels

Health Canada will begin engaging the public and stakeholders in fall 2016.

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. Health Canada will:

  • conduct a full and comprehensive evaluation of industry's voluntary efforts starting in 2017
  • use data from the 2015 Canadian Community Health Survey to assess how Canadian's intake of sodium has changed

Before the final report is released, Health Canada will:

  • collect label information for more than 10,000 products, representing 94 food categories
  • weight the sodium levels of the products within each category by their Canadian volume market share
  • assess the data against the sodium reduction targets

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

Health Canada is proposing to reduce sodium levels in foods in two ways:

  • actively monitor and evaluate the food industry's efforts towards achieving voluntary targets, and openly report to Canadians on progress
  • introduce regulations for a new front-of-package labelling approach that will highlight the sodium in the food

Both of these initiatives will encourage the food industry to lower the amount of sodium in processed foods.

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

Canada has been a leader in taking action toward eliminating trans fat from foods.

  • Canada was the first country to require manufacturers to declare the amount of trans fat on food labels.
  • Health Canada established voluntary limits for the levels of trans fat in foods and openly reported on industry's efforts through an active monitoring program.

Significant progress has been achieved through these measures. Nevertheless, research has shown that approximately 3% of packaged foods still contain high levels of trans fat. These include:

  • some commercially baked goods (e.g., crackers, cookies)
  • shortenings and margarines

These can contribute significantly to the daily trans fat intake of those who consume them regularly, bringing their intake level well above the daily limit recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO). Health Canada will propose to introduce regulations to eliminate industrially produced trans fat. This will help bring the trans fat intake of nearly all Canadians below the WHO-recommended daily limit.

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, we 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.

Generally speaking, unhealthy food and beverages are those that are:

  • energy-dense and nutrient-poor
  • high in saturated and trans fat, sugars and/or sodium

The scope of marketing and the exact criteria that Health Canada will use to define unhealthy food will be determined after:

  • a thorough review of the evidence
  • consultation with experts in the field

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

Factors to consider when developing a policy to restrict the commercial marketing of unhealthy food and beverages to children include:

  • age of children to which the restrictions will apply
  • scope of marketing covered by the restrictions, such as:
    • advertisements on television, radio and Internet
    • emerging forms of marketing like branding, product placement, sponsorship or advergames
  • the food and beverages to which marketing restrictions will apply

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 will support 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 will be 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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