The Latest in the Ongoing Nutrition Label Saga
An article listed on the CBC’s website about nutrition labels on food products begins with a very difficult to answer question:
“If three-quarters of a cup of Reese’s Puffs cereal has 110 calories, one gram of dietary fibre and two grams of protein; and one cup of Kellogg’s Special K cereal has 120 calories, no dietary fibre but six grams of protein, which one should you eat for breakfast?”
If you can’t figure it out, don’t feel bad. Very few of us either have the capacity or desire to take the time and effort needed to do the mental mathematics to get the answer.
And why should we? Is it right that decades after nutrition labels were made mandatory on packaged foods in North America we still can’t use them to quickly get a good idea of the vitamins, nutrients and calories contained in the foods we eat?
And the consequences of not knowing what’s really in the foods you eat not only makes it more difficult to lose and manage your weight, it can affect your overall health.
But when we last wrote about nutrition labels here in the Herbal One blog, there seemed to be some good news on the horizon. Last year, Health Canada proposed changes to the nutrition labeling system and they were seeking public consultation on the changes before moving forward.
Among other changes, the proposal included standardizing the serving sizes listed on labels to make it easier to compare one product to another; adding a daily percent value for sugar (it’s the only nutrient not to have a daily value on the label – the result of efforts by the sugar lobby in the U.S.) and to make the labels bolder and easier to understand.
What’s Happened Since?
Even before the public consultations were closed at the end of August 2015, it was announced that companies would have 5 years to comply with the new guidelines. Today, the latest information on nutrition labelling guidelines listed on Health Canada’s website dates back before the end of last August, so it doesn’t look like they’ve published the new guidelines. It’s anyone’s guess as to when we’ll see better labels.
More Changes to Food Labels = More Consultations
Most recently, Canadian Health Minister Jane Philpott announced a ‘sweeping strategy’ to overhaul Canada’s healthy eating guides and new rules for marketing and labelling certain foods for children. In a nutshell, in addition to changing the eating guidelines, food producers will be asked to curb their marketing to children and to indicate if foods are high or low in certain nutrients, including sodium (salt), sugar and saturated fats, with front-of-package labelling.
It all sounds wonderful until you get some of the back story:
- The main thrust of the new ‘sweeping strategy’ came from a recommendation made by the World Health Organization (WHO) in 2010. In other words, it’s taken us 6 years to react – on a matter of our basic health.
- The government says it will take anywhere from five to 10 years to implement the changes, after consultations with industry, stakeholders and the public. When nutrition labels were first introduced, the industry was given three years to comply and they had few problems in doing so.
- Quebec didn’t wait around for the federal government to take action, it already restricts food marketing to children under the age of 13
The United States Moves Forward
Not only is Canada’s federal government lagging behind one of its own province on nutrition label reforms, but it’s behind its closest neighbour too. The U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) rolled out new requirements for nutrition labels earlier this year.
Among others, the new labels feature the following changes:
- Separate serving sizes for small children for some foods
- Bolder listings for serving sizes and calories
- A separate listing for added sugars along with a percent daily value for them
Food manufacturers have been given until the end of July 2016, to comply with the new label requirements, which is less than three years after their introduction.
Before We Catch Up We Might Be Falling Further Behind
Before Canada institutes six-year-old guidelines, there are signs that the evolution of nutrition label guidelines are going even beyond WHO’s recommendations. Earlier this year, British doctors of the Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) suggested further changes to labels to make them even more practical for understanding the nutrition and calories contained in packaged food.
The RSPH says that the exercise or activity equivalent of the calories in a serving should be added to the labels. Simply stated, they suggest listing how long it would take to walk, run or swim off the calories. Drinking a can of pop with 140 calories would require 30 minutes of walking to burn off the calories.
The good news is that you don’t have to wait for the government to make changes to nutrition labels to learn more about the nutrition values of food and to start eating a healthier diet. You can call or visit your local Herbal One Centre and talk to a nutritional consultant today.