Carbohydrate Claims on Foods Sold in Canada

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Background

Due to the recent interest in a number of reduced carbohydrate diets, a variety of carbohydrate claims and statements are appearing on foods sold in Canada. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) updated this information letter on January 11, 2008 to reflect the full implementation of the nutrition labelling requirements in the Food and Drug Regulations.

The information contained in this letter refers to claims and statements made on food labels and in any type of advertising material, including broadcast, print, point-of-sale, and the internet.

On January 1, 2003, amendments to the Food and Drug Regulations (FDR) were published making nutrition labelling mandatory on most pre-packaged foods mandatory as of December 12, 2007 and setting out the requirements for nutrient content claims and diet related health claims.

Note that the labelling provisions under the Food and Drugs Act and Regulations, including those for nutrition labelling and nutrient content claims, apply to all foods sold in Canada. This includes food, beverages, and alcoholic beverages, such as beer.

Compliance with the Regulations

The Regulations have restricted the list of nutrient content claims that may be made on foods. Carbohydrate claims, including "low carbohydrate", "reduced carbohydrates", "source of carbohydrates" are not included in the list under the regulations and are therefore not permitted. A limited number of claims may be made for the presence or absence of sugars and for the level of fibre contained in a food. These can be found in the table following section B.01.513, FDR. Section B.01.502, FDR, further prohibits other express or implied representations about the amount of a nutrient in a food, unless specifically provided for. This means that other statements about the presence or absence of carbohydrates, including the use of brand names and trade-marks, are subject to these regulations.

Also note that section B.01.301, FDR, does permit quantitative statements about the amount of a nutrient in a food under specified conditions. For carbohydrates, this may be expressed as the number of grams per serving of stated size or as a percentage (%) of the Daily Value (DV) per serving of stated size. No word sets can be used around this type of statement. An acceptable example would be:

"8 g of carbohydrate per 30 g serving"
"10% of the Daily Value for carbohydrate per 30 g serving"

Further information on the requirements for nutrient content claims under the Regulations can be found in Nutrient Content Claims.

Use of the term "Carbohydrate"

  1. Abbreviation "Carb"

    Due to the proliferation of the term "carb" in the marketplace, CFIA will not object to the use of the term "carb" as an abbreviation for "carbohydrate" when used in the context of nutrient content claims or as part of a quantitative statement. However, the CFIA will object to the abbreviation "carb" in the Nutrition Facts table.

  2. Brand Names and Trade-marks

    Brand names and trade-marks used on food labels and advertisements are subject to the provisions of the Food and Drugs Act and Regulations (FDAR). Thus any wording used in brand names and trade-marks is also required to comply with all applicable provisions in the FDAR. This means that the use of many brand names and trade-marks regarding carbohydrates are not permitted under the Regulations.

  3. "Net Carbohydrate" and "Effective Carbohydrate" Statements

    The following terms, "net carbohydrate", "net impact carbohydrate", "net effective carbohydrate", "effective carbohydrate", and "digestible carbs" are not acceptable due to lack of scientific consensus on their definition and their potential to mislead consumers. Additionally, the Regulations prohibit claims concerning the action or effects of nutrients, including carbohydrate, unless specifically provided for (B.01.311, FDR).

  4. Glycemic Index Statements

    In the absence of a defined method for determining the glycemic index of each food, statements like "Low glycemic index", "non-glycemic", and "Glycemic Index = 10" are not acceptable.

  5. Foods Represented as Part of a Weight Reduction Diet

    Under the Regulations, statements or claims, including brand names and trade-marks, that imply that a food is for weight reduction are limited to certain foods. Manufacturers must ensure that their foods meet the criteria set out in subsection B.24.003(3), FDR which states:

    No person shall label, package, sell or advertise a food in a manner likely to create an impression that a food is for use in a weight reduction diet unless that food is:

    1. a meal replacement that meets the compositional requirements contained in B.24.200;
    2. a prepackaged meal;
    3. a food sold by a weight reduction clinic to clients of the clinic for use in a weight reduction program supervised by staff of the clinic; or
    4. a food represented for use in a very low energy diet that meets the compositional requirements contained in section B.24.303

    Foods represented as being for a weight reduction diet that do not meet at least one of the above conditions would be considered in contravention of the FDR.

Compliance with Canadian Regulations

The CFIA reminds all food manufacturers of their responsibility to comply with existing Canadian regulations. For more information, refer to the Industry Labelling Tool.

Requests for Amendments to the Regulations

While the CFIA is responsible for enforcing the nutrition labelling regulations, Health Canada is responsible for setting nutrition related policy and regulations. Submissions for requests for regulatory amendments should be addressed to:

Nutrition Evaluation Division,
Food Directorate,
Health Products and Food Branch,
Health Canada,
3rd Floor Frederick G. Banting Building,
Tunney's Pasture, A.L. 2203A,
Ottawa, ON, K1A 0L2.

The submission should include the suggested claim along with compositional and labelling criteria, as well as an appropriate scientific rationale taking into consideration the latest recommendations of the U.S. Institute of Medicine.

Originally issued August 31, 2004 (Information Letter To Industry)

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