Flavour of the Week

Canadian Nutrition Society Conference 2014

The Canadian Nutrition Society recently hosted their annual conference in St John’s, Newfoundland. The society brings flavour-of-the-week-logotogether academics, clinicians and industry personnel related to food and health. If you would like more information on the Canadian Nutrition Society or the conference you can check out their website http://cns-scn.ca/. There was a broad range of topics from basic science to food policy. Below are the highlights from two of the presentations:
Improving the Way Nutritional Information is Provided on Food Labels
Do Our Genes Determine What We Should Eat?

Improving the Way Nutritional Information is Provided on Food Labels
Health Canada Update on Nutritional Labelling Activities – Presented by William Yan, PhD and Hasan Hutchinson, PhD from Health Canada
Following on the heals of the changes in the US, Health Canada has been given the go ahead to evaluate how foods are labelled in Canada to determine if (definitely in our opinion) and which changes are needed.
Concerns Identified by Public Consultations. 
Health Canada began the process by consulting with Canadian parents through online consultations and round table discussions. You can access the full report; however, the key points that came out from this consultation were:
  • Information on the food labels was generally viewed as useful
  • There is still some confusion – especially around the daily values
  • Some people found food labels complicated
  • Food labels lack information such as gluten free, genetically modified, common allergens etc.
  • Food label information is not trusted
  • Number one complaint was with serving size inconsistency
Health Canada’s Planned Response to the Concerns Identified in the Consultations. 
Serving Sizes
Health Canada will work to be more consistent for similar products and improve regulation of serving sizes.
They will advise industry to use standard serving sizes and the serving sizes will more closely align with Canada’s Food Guide reference amounts (which they may also update in conjunction).
  • Guideline 1 – The reference amount will be equivalent to one serving from Canada’s Food Guide (this will be the default).
  • Guideline 2 – Closest serving size to the reference amount. Example cracker serving size as close to Canada’s Food Guide amount as possible.
  • Guideline 3 – Based on what the consumer usually consumes; however, is unique as there will be considerable variation in “usual”.For example, sliced bread is difficult because of varying loaf sizes. The serving size will be two slices of bread regardless of loaf size.
Given that they will be linking the serving sizes to reference amounts from Canada’s Food Guide they will also be looking at updating the Food Guide, which has not been reviewed since 2003. Changes to the Food Guide will include more examples within each category, more accurate assessment of what people actually eat, and recommendations for children under 2 years.
Percent Daily Values
Many are outdated based on the changes to the Institute of Medicine recommendations used by Canada and the US. Health Canada is watching the changes made in the US and will align with them in many cases. As the percent daily value levels change, it will also impact the claims a product can make. For example, if the daily value for vitamin D increases a product may no longer meet the minimum requirement for a claim. Finally, they note that the percent daily value concept is here to stay and they will work on consumer education.
What’s Next?
The next step is to consult with multiple stakeholders on serving sizes, reference amounts, daily values, and the core nutrients. To stay on top of the changes and regulations you can check out Health Canada’s website and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency regulations and the Food Labelling Modernization Initiative.
Do Our Genes Determine What We Should Eat?
Presented by Ahmed Ed-Sohemy, PhD
Nutrigenomics Overview
Nutrigenomics is the term for using genomic information (DNA) to better understand the role of our genes in health and performance (1). DNA codes for proteins, which can then regulate how the body works (for example hormones are proteins). What this means is that your genetics could impact how you metabolize foods and how foods work in your body. Importantly, it should be thought of as using genetics to look for genes that modify metabolism and perhaps adjusting our diet accordingly. We already do this to a small degree. For example those with the genetic make-up that prevents them from digesting lactose avoid dairy products.
A Few Known Examples…..
Food Preferences
Genes can affect foods we select. Genes affect taste perceptions and thus food preferences. Extending the chain of thought this means that your genes could impact your food intakes and metabolism. You can’t blame everything on your genes but it does suggest that some people are more likely to struggle to avoid eating unhealthy foods (2).
The research looking at the impact of coffee on cardiovascular disease is all over the map, as usual. Nutrigenomics suggests that this isn’t because of “bad science” but rather because of the way our genetics impacts how we metabolize caffeine. Some people have a genetic make up that allows them to metabolize caffeine quickly and effectively. In these people, 3-4 cups of coffee per day is unlikely to have a negative impact and they would benefit from the antioxidants and other phytochemicals present in coffee. Others however, have a genetic makeup that does not allow them to metabolize caffeine effectively and in them the effects of the caffeine override any health benefits (3).
Why is Nutrigenomics Important?
Nutrigenomics is important because it suggests that a diet or treatment that works for one person may not work in another person or worse may actually be harmful. Although a relatively new field, it has been suggested that people are open to the idea of using genetic information to improve their diet (4). More research is still required to determine if personal genetic information would positively impact behaviours.
Don’t get too excited about genetically informed nutrition advice. We are still a ways a way from mass genetic testing and corresponding dietary recommendations. Furthermore, there are several ethical issues that need to be resolved. We would suggest that careful thought and regulations should be put in place to ensure the information is used to promote health.
No Baloney’s thoughts? Thanks to the CNS for a great conference! There was so much more than could be discussed in one blog. We encourage anyone who is interested to check out their conference next year in Winnipeg!

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