Reading labels is one of the basic principles of healthy eating, but reading them does not always mean we understand them. That is why Health Canada is proposing new changes to the way packaged foods are labelled.

In Canada, nutrition labelling is mandatory on all pre-packaged food products.

Reading those labels, according to dietitian Krista Leck-Merner, is one of the best ways to help make healthy food choices.

“So whether it be deciding how much of that product they’re going to eat, or even if they’re going to buy that product, or swap it for something different,” says Leck-Merner.

Health Canada is the government agency that oversees food labelling guidelines. The agency is proposing changes to the way packaged foods are identified and if approved, the way the label looks will change.

Calories would be moved to the top, in bold font, separated from the rest of the components.

Dietitian Angela Dufour says another proposed change is the standardization of the ingredients list.

“So, it will be a white background, black font, even upper and lower case letters,” says Dufour. “So, if you look at an actual current ingredient list, sometime really small font, hard to find, you can’t even find them on some labels, you have to life them up to see.”

Currently, food manufacturers are required to list the amounts of vitamin C and vitamin A in a product. Since most Canadians receive adequate amounts of the nutrients, the new labels would not include them. Instead, they would be replaced by vitamin D and potassium.

“With all the emphasis on sodium, often food manufacturers are reducing the sodium in their products and increasing the potassium,” says Leck-Merner. “So, for the general person, not a big concern, but for people with specific health concerns, that will be a great marker to add as well.”

Under the new guidelines, serving sizes for products like bread, yogurt, cereal, and crackers would be standardized, in an attempt to make it easier for consumers to fairly compare brands.

One of the changes dietitians are most eager to see involves sugar. Currently, labels list the total amount in a product, there is no distinction between naturally occurring and added sugars. The new label would separate the two.

“So, when we’re looking at the health benefits, certainly naturally occurring sugars, like in dairy products, fruits, and vegetables, those aren’t really the health concerns,” says Dufour. “Where we have concerns, from a nutrition point of view, is when we’re seeing those added sugars sneak in and so a separation on that line is really exciting.”

Health Canada is looking for feedback on the proposed changes. Residents have until September 11 to make their opinions heard.