Added sugar should be clear on labels, says dietitian

Canada should adopt some of the changes to nutrition labels being proposed on food in the United States, says a P.E.I. registered dietitian.

Canada should adopt some of the changes to nutrition labels being proposed on food in the United States by its Food and Drug Administration, says a P.E.I. registered dietitian.

Portion sizes on nutrition labels need to be reconsidered, says dietitian Roxanne Laughlin. (Laura Chapin/CBC)

Health Canada began a review of food labelling in January.

The FDA is considering making it mandatory for companies to list any unnatural or added sugar in their products. Dietitian Roxanne Laughlin thinks this could have a positive influence, even if people aren't reading the labels.

"People would be surprised by the amount of sugar in products that we don't necessarily assume they're going to be in," said Laughlin.

"Even if people aren't totally checking that, maybe the process of having to do that may cause companies to kind of reconsider the amount of sugar content in their foods."

Laughlin said that's what happened when companies were required to list trans-fats on labels.

Paying attention to added sugars could help reduce obesity and heart disease, she said.

Going after portion sizes

Laughlin would also like to see total calorie counts listed if it's likely a product will be consumed in one sitting. That's another suggestion the FDA is considering. Currently, most North American products list nutritional information based on a single serving.

Laughlin offered the example that many beverages produced in small bottles provide nutrition information for just a half the product, and she said that can be misleading.

"I think with certain products it definitely is," she said.

"Most people don't drink just half a bottle. If you're out there working out or whatever you're consuming the whole thing. It's sort of pointless to put just a serving on."

Laughlin said one problem better food labelling won't solve is the low number of people who read food labels. Research in the U.S. shows only about 40 per cent of consumers do.

Health Canada says there's no deadline on the decision on labelling. It's welcoming public input on changes through an on-line survey.