Nutrition labels to be 'easier to read,' Health Canada proposes

Health Canada is proposing changes to nutrition labels on food that would make them easier to read.

Health Minister Rona Ambrose launches online public consultations on suggested changes

A new guide to serving sizes could make it easier for consumers to compare foods, Health Canada says. (Nati Harnik/Associated Press)

Health Canada is proposing changes to nutrition labels on food that would make them easier to read.

The proposed labels would emphasize calories, change the order of nutrients to focus on those nutrients Canadians may want less of, and require information about the amount of "added sugars."

"Today our government is proposing changes to nutrition facts that we do believe address concerns parents have raised," Health Minister Rona Ambrose said Monday.

The changes will make it easier to read and understand labels, she said.

Ambrose has launched a series of online public consultations on the proposed changes.

Among the proposals is that serving sizes be more consistent for similar foods and better reflect what people typically eat at one sitting, such as two slices of bread.

The proposed changes also aim to improve the understanding of ingredients.

"Parents want to know how much sugar is being added in total to their children's cereal, for example," Ambrose said.

"Whether it's molasses or brown sugar, all types of sugars will be grouped together. This makes the label much more transparent and allows shoppers to quickly see how much added sugars are in a food, compared to other ingredients."

Vitamin A and vitamin C amounts will no longer need to be listed. Under the proposal, vitamin D and potassium would need to be listed on the label. Health Canada said many in the Canadian population are not getting enough of the those two, which puts them at higher risk of chronic disease.

Labels complicated

A message will also be added to the bottom of the table to remind people how to use the %Daily Value. It would read, "5% DV or less is a little, 15% DV or more is a lot."

Dr. Thomas Wolever, who teaches in the department of nutritional sciences at the University of Toronto, gives the changes an eight out of 10.

"I think nutrition is extremely complicated and I think this label does a very good job to try and inform consumers," Wolever said. "I always tell my class, you need a PhD in nutrition to interpret these labels and you almost do."

But Wolever takes issue with the suggestion to reduce the emphasis on carbohydrates on the label. Counting carbohydrates is important for some people, such as those with diabetes.

The list of ingredients would also be easier to read, using black type on a white or neutral background for contrast, using upper and lower case letters, and having a minimum font size.

Food and Consumer Products of Canada, which represents food manufacturers and distributors, said the federal government is proposing significant changes to the nutrition facts table that the group needs to review thoroughly.

The consultations run for 60 days, until Sept. 11.

Some of the proposed changes to the Nutrition Facts label that goes on food products are intended to help consumers find details, such as calories, more quickly. (Health Canada)

With files from CBC's Karina Roman


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