New Canada food guide aims for healthier choices

Canada’s revised food guide has morphed into a healthy eating strategy.

It is intended to provide better nutrition information, improve food quality and protect vulnerable groups like children.

“The healthy eating strategy is part of a larger strategy to develop a food policy for Canada,” said Hasan Hutchinson, director of the office of nutrition policy and promotion, Health Canada.

The new approach is coming out in two parts with the first set of documents for health professionals released this year followed by a second set of recommendations in 2019.

The guide’s new approach has placed added salt, sugar and saturated fats on the naughty list of things Canadians should reduce in their diets.

Draft regulations were presented in 2017 and 20,000 public comments were received.

That first revision encourages the consumption of more fruits, vegetables, lean meats, water and fewer processed products containing high levels of salt, sugar and saturated fats.

Various government departments are involved to address food security, health, environment and the agricultural sector.

“It is to reshape the food environment and make sure one can make better choices. It goes beyond consumer choice. It is much deeper than that,” Hutchinson said at a food policy conference held in Calgary June 18-19 and hosted by the University of Calgary O’Brien Institute for Public Health and the Libin Cardiovascular Institute of Alberta.

In addition, Health Canada intends to change information on nutrition and ingredient labels.

Labels are saturated with packaging designs and information, and front-of-package labels do not mention fat, salt and sugar content, said William Yan, director of nutritional sciences at Health Canada.

Health Canada is proposing a requirement to declare high levels of salt, fat and sugar on the front of packages with easy-to-understand warning labels.

They hope to publish final regulations in the Canada Gazette this fall so industry can implement them by 2022.

The government wants improved food quality with less sodium and the associated risk of high blood pressure.

“Sodium and hypertension is a huge risk factor for Canadians,” he said.

In 2012, Health Canada published limits for these products in food and gave industry until 2016 to meet reduced sodium targets.

The government is encouraging daily sodium consumption of 2,300 milligrams per day, However, most Canadians take in about 3,400 mg per day.

Health Canada analyzed 10,000 labels and in January published a report that showed sodium decreases were modest.

Baby food met the targets but products like deli meats did not.

“Clearly industry is not on target. We really did not expect them to because sodium reduction is much more challenging than trans fats. Sodium actually has a lot of functions in food safety and the property of the food,” Yan said.

The government is going in the right direction, said Mary L’Abbé of the University of Toronto.

Canada is poised to become the second high-income country in the world behind Chile to put warning labels on foods high in sugar, fat and salt.

Many countries throughout the world are also using interpretative food labelling so people know more about food ingredients.

“That simplification process does not replace the other. It really makes it easier for consumers,” she said.

L’Abbé said the developed world has solved malnutrition but now obesity is the new focus.

Nutrition policy once zeroed in on helping people eat healthier but now government is saying something needs to be done to help people make better choices, she said.

“We know the food industry will spend to counteract some of these policies that they see as more aggressive,” she said.

It is estimated 13.8 million people worldwide aged 30 to 70 died of chronic disease, far above injuries and non-communicable diseases in 2011. The World Health Organization said most of it could be prevented.

The WHO wants to reduce the risk of chronic diseases like diabetes and conditions like obesity, as well reduce blood pressure rates by 25 percent.

WHO guidelines recommend sugar intake for children and adults should be less than 10 percent of total energy intake.

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