On October 24, 2016, Canada’s Minister of health announced that Canada’s food labeling requirements would be revised as a part of the Healthy Eating Strategy for Canada. This program has brought changes to labeling and disclosure requirements, such as what needs to be disclosed on a food product’s label and how that information is to be conveyed (e.g. increased contrast between ingredients and background, mandatory font size requirements, etc.).
As another part of this program, Health Canada is revising Canada’s Food Guide to provide better guidance for healthy eating. In the Fall of 2016, Health Canada asked Canadians for input on revisions to Canada’s Food Guide. Then, they used this information to develop recommendations for healthy eating, and to identify ways to better communicate health information to consumers. Notably, they excluded industry commissioned reports from consideration.
The initial Guiding Principles and Recommendations developed as a result of the public consultation are notable in that they emphasize plant-based sources of protein. In developing the “Guiding Principles and Recommendations”, the Agency considered that there are many interrelated factors at play when people make choices about their food. These include access to nutritional options, culture, and the physical and social environment. The Agency has designed its recommendations to be observable by people in areas throughout Canada, by including more readily accessible products, such as frozen, packaged, and canned foods. The Agency also considered the potential environmental benefits of shifting towards a diet higher in plant-based foods.
Specifically, Health Canada is proposing the following “Guiding Principles and Recommendations”:
Guiding Principle 1: A variety of nutritious foods and beverages are the foundations for healthy eating.
Under this principle Health Canada recommends regular intake of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and protein rich foods – especially plant-based sources of protein, including legumes, nuts, seeds, and soy.
This shift towards more plant-based foods is focused on getting Canadians to eat more foods rich in fiber, eat less red meat, and to replace many of the saturated fats in the diet with more unsaturated fats.
Guiding Principle 2: Processed or prepared foods and beverages high in sodium, sugars, or saturated fat undermine healthy eating.
Under this principle Health Canada recommends limiting intake of processed or prepared foods high in sodium, sugar, or saturated fats, as well as beverages high in sugar.
This is meant to combat the increasing consumption of processed foods in Canada which contribute at least half of the sugar intake of Canadians, over three quarters of the sodium, and a significant portion of saturated fat.
Guiding Principle 3: Knowledge and skills are needed to navigate the complex food environment and support healthy eating.
Under this principle Health Canada recommends selecting more nutritious foods when shopping and eating out, planning healthy meals and snacks ahead of time, and sharing meals with friends and family whenever possible.
This is meant to decrease reliance on meals of convenience and increase the preparation of meals from scratch. Health Canada is hoping that as people start to develop the knowledge and skill to select, plan, and prepare their own healthier meals, that it will become more convenient and common for people to do so.