What you need to know about the new Healthy Eating Strategy in Canada and Menu Labelling in Ontario

Last fall, Federal Health Minister Jane Philpott announced a Healthy Eating Strategy that aims to support Canadians in choosing healthy diets. The strategy includes six key action areas, including nutrition recommendations and improving labelling regulations.

In addition to these federal government initiatives, you may also notice changes at your favourite restaurant, thanks to our province’s Bill 45: Making Healthier Choices Act, 2015. Menu labelling has come to Ontario. Beginning January 1, 2017, restaurants with more than 20 locations in Ontario will be required to display calories on menus for standard food items. For now, only calories will be required on the menus. It’s important to keep in mind that calories only tell us the amount of energy coming from a food, not the nutrients or vitamins it may provide. It’s the overall pattern of healthy eating that is important.

Updating Canada’s Food Guide

Canada’s Food Guide was last revised 10 years ago in 2007. Love it or hate it the Food Guide has been a topic of debate for quite some time. Health Canada has reviewed the evidence and decided it is time for an update. Health Canada is also promising a transparent approach, with all correspondence with stakeholders, including the food industry, being made public. Later this year, expect key messages for Canadians to be released related to the new food guide. The official food guide will be released later in 2018. Health Canada will be hosting consultations for feedback throughout the process.

Improved labelling

The Nutrition Facts panel will be updated to make it easier for consumers to compare similar products. The serving sizes will be made consistent, and the list of nutrients are being changed. A percent Daily Value for total sugars will also be added. However, this may make finding added sugars tricky as the label will not differentiate between added and total sugars. The ingredients lists will be updated to be easier to read. Health Canada will also be adding front-of-package labelling claims. This will allow consumers to quickly assess levels of fat, sugar and salt in a product. Remember, fresh vegetables and fruit do not require a Nutrition Facts panel – not all healthy food needs a label!

Reducing sodium and eliminating industrially produced trans fat

In 2012 Health Canada provided sodium restrictions to the food industry. This year they will be working on establishing targets to reduce sodium in our food supply of processed and restaurant foods. Health Canada has worked to reduce trans fat in the food industry, and has now committed to eliminating it further.

Restrict marketing to kids

Junk food and other unhealthy foods are directly marketed towards our children. This marketing approach undermines parents’ and community efforts to improve children’s nutrition. Multiple organizations have called for a ban or restriction on marketing to children through the www.stopmarketingtokids.ca advocacy campaign. You can take action by telling government to restrict commercial food and beverage marketing to children.

There are currently two Private Member’s bills related to marketing to kids on the table for discussion. Health Canada will be implementing restrictions on marketing of food and beverages to children, similar to Consumer Protection Act in place in Quebec.

Nutrition North

Nutrition North Canada is a program that subsidizes healthy food for Canadians living in the North. Health Canada has not released much detail on the changes to this program.

How can I be involved?

Health Canada will be looking for public feedback on all of these action areas. Stay informed and check Health Canada’s website for active consultation opportunities related to healthy eating.

By Rachel Morgan