What's really in that food?

Proposed front-of-pack labels would help you avoid unhealthy choices
A woman looks at products on a shelf in the grocery store

The federal government is proposing a new labelling system that could show you at a glance whether a product contains unhealthy levels of sugar, salt or saturated fat. Heart & Stroke dietitian Carol Dombrow explains how this could change your trip to the grocery store.

What is front-of-pack labelling?

Front-of-pack (FOP) labelling is meant to help you know more about the foods and beverages you choose at the grocery store. Packaged foods would be required to show simplified nutrition information on the front of the box, bag or can, where you can easily see it and compare with other products. 

How does labelling work now in Canada?

Currently, many foods and beverages feature prominent labels showing what are called nutrient content claims — touting benefits such as “high in calcium” — or health claims such as, “A healthy diet low in saturated and trans fat may reduce the risk of heart disease.”

However, a product that qualifies for this kind of claim may also be high in negative nutrients such as sugar or salt. The manufacturer can choose to display only the positive claims.

What changes is the government proposing?

Health Canada is proposing mandatory front-of-pack labelling for any packaged foods high in nutrients that are a public health concern, specifically:

  • sugars
  • sodium
  • saturated fat.

A food that contributes 15% or more of the daily value of any of these would have to show a label on the front. Fresh foods such as vegetables, fruit, meat and fish, as well as some milk products, would not be labelled. 

Why the focus on sugar, salt and saturated fats?

Eating foods high in these nutrients on a regular basis can lead to increased health risks such as obesity, high blood pressure and heart disease.

How is Heart & Stroke involved? 

Heart & Stroke supports this initiative because:

  • it can help consumers select healthier foods; 
  • it can potentially reduce chronic disease, including heart disease and stroke;
  • it will encourage manufacturers to develop healthier products and reformulate existing foods, resulting in a healthier food supply.

Heart & Stroke would like to see a single standardized, mandatory front-of-pack labelling system that is prominently displayed on the package and does not compete with other nutrient messaging. The label should be easy to understand, consistently located and supported by a strong education program to help consumers get to know the new system.  The ultimate goal is to encourage Canadians to purchase more whole, natural foods and prepare them at home.