Keto Claims on Products in Canada

Keto Claims on Products in Canada

Keto Claims on Products in Canada

Most people associate the obesity crisis as a phenomenon affecting large segments of the population in the United States. With more than two-thirds of the US population either obese or overweight, this shouldn’t surprise. However, as the industrial food system, focusing on highly processed and nutrient-empty carbohydrates has spread worldwide, most other nations are facing similar obesity pandemics. In Canada, for example, one recent report found that in 2018, 26.8 percent of Canadians 18 and older (roughly 7.3 million adults) were classified as obese, while a further 9.9 million adults (36.3 percent of the total population) were classified as overweight. Over 63 percent of the Canadian population currently suffers from the increased health risks that come from excess weight. This issue obviously has led many Canadians to search for weight loss diets, including an increase in the popularity of the Keto Diet. For brands looking to expand into Canada, researching regulations on Keto claims on products in Canada should be a priority. 

Given these proliferating weight problems and the subsequent health issues that arise due to obesity, millions of people across Canada are looking to lose weight. A 2017 online survey found that more than two out of five Canadians (42 percent) say they recently went on a diet to lose weight. Similarly, a 2019 poll exploring why consumers were motivated to change their eating habits in Canada found that almost one-third of respondents wanted to eat healthier to lose weight, while 28 percent hoped that healthier nutrition would protect their long-term health.

The Ketogenic Diet is one of the most popular diets across North America due to its ability to help people to lose weight quickly. In this short article, we look at the popularity of the Keto Diet in Canada and the main reasons Canadians are attracted to Keto and other low-carb nutritional programs. We then look at some relevant Canadian laws and regulations regarding Keto claims and low carbohydrate claims on food products sold in Canada.

The Growth of the Keto Diet in Canada and how this Affects Keto Claims on Products in Canada

In early 2020 the Agri-Food Analytics Lab at Dalhousie University released the results of a cross-Canada survey on the Keto diet to look at the sustained acceptance of this popular diet. The study came to the following conclusions:

Results suggest that 4% of Canadians follow the Keto diet, while 10% think about it. Alberta has the highest percentage of people on the Keto diet, at 6%. The lowest rate is in Saskatchewan. The highest rate of consumers thinking about following the Keto diet is in Manitoba, at 14%. 27% of Quebec respondents have never heard of the Keto diet. People earning over $100,000 a year are three times more likely to follow the Keto diet than those earning less than $50,000. Both men and women have the same Keto dieting rate, at 4%. Interestingly, more than twice as many Canadians have tried and dropped the Keto diet (9%) than Canadians who remain with the program. Of Canadians who are on the Keto diet, 24% have just started, 42% started less than a year ago. Only 2% of those who are on the Keto diet have been on it for at least 5 years.

Although the Keto Diet might be enjoying a different level of popularity than in the United States, there is still an enormous market for health food companies to market their products to Canadian consumers looking for Keto or low-carb food products. In a recent article published by Canadian Grocer Magazine, Sylvain Charlebois, scientific director for the Agri-Food Analytics Lab Faculty of Agriculture at Dalhousie University, states the following:

(The Keto Diet is) like veganism. There is a limited number of people who are vegans, but they are an influential group…People may not follow the keto diet, but are attracted to keto-friendly products.

Though the number of dedicated Keto dieters may be lower than in the United States, most major grocery retailers across Canada continue to stock Keto-friendly food products. These retailers understand the popularity of low-carb diets and have data-relevant insight into consumers’ dietary and nutritional interests in the country. Many even have a dedicated Keto products tab/page for online shoppers.

For example, a recent Canadian Community Health Survey finds that “Canadians report consuming more of their calories from protein and fat and fewer from carbohydrates than they did a decade ago.” The report also found that almost half of the Canadian population (45.6 percent) used some nutritional supplement in 2015.

These nutrition and dietary trends confirm that Keto and other low-carb dietary paradigms should continue to be popular with Canadian consumers in the coming years, even if there are not high numbers of Canadians who claim to be actively following the Keto diet, nor a high percentage of people who follow the Keto diet over the long-term. What does Canadian law and regulation say about making Keto or other similar low-carb claims for health food brands looking to market to the Canadian consumer interested in the Keto diet?  

Canadian Regulation on Carbohydrate Claims and Keto Claims on Products in Canada

In Canada, food labeling is regulated by the Food and Drugs Act (FDA) and Food and Drug Regulations (FDR). The Canadian Food Inspection Agency enforces all health and safety standards under the Food and Drug Regulations. It is responsible for relevant health and safety standards and all applicable food packaging, labeling, and advertising regulations.

As low carbohydrate diets have grown in popularity across Canada over the past two decades, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency has created regulations that precisely control carbohydrate claims on food packaging, labeling, and advertising. Among the relevant rules regarding carbohydrate claims, health food brands should take into consideration the following:

  • Food brands are not permitted to make carbohydrate claims for their food products on the labeling or packaging. This includes claims such as “low carbohydrate,” “reduced carbohydrates,” or “source of carbohydrates.”
  • Similarly, the brand names, trademarks, and food product designations used on the food labels and advertisements are also subject to the Food and Drugs Act and Regulations (FDAR) provisions. The phrasing used in brand names or trademarks must also observe and respect the related provisions in the FDAR. Essentially this indicates that the use of many brand names and trademarks regarding carbohydrates is not permitted (e.g., “carb-free cereal”)
  • The Canadian Food Inspection Agency has determined that there is not sufficient scientific consensus around the terms “net carbohydrate,” “net impact carbohydrate,” “net effective carbohydrate,” “effective carbohydrate,” and “digestible carbs.” Thus, these terms cannot be used on packaging, labeling, or advertising.
  • The Agency also believes that there is insufficient scientific consensus for determining and defining a method to measure the glycemic index of each food. Thus, declarations or statements such as “Low glycemic index,” “non-glycemic,” and “Glycemic Index = 12” are also disallowed by the current regulation.

Canadian Legislation on Other Health Claims

Current food labeling regulations also set boundaries regarding health claims for food packaging, labeling, and advertising. The government defines a health claim as “any representation in labelling or advertising that states, suggests, or implies that a relationship exists between consumption of a food or an ingredient in the food and a person’s health.”

Making a health claim for a given food brand or product is optional. However, when it is made or stated, the current Canadian legislation requires that the health statement be truthful and not misleading according to the Food and Drugs Act (FDA) stipulations. Specifically, this entails that food brands, manufacturers, or food importers must show scientific evidence to substantiate food health.

Health Canada, the Federal department responsible for helping Canadians maintain and improve their health, states that “health claims are also subject to Section 3 of the Food and Drugs Act that prohibits the labelling and advertising of any food to the general public, as a treatment, preventative or cure for any diseases and health conditions listed in Schedule A of the Food and Drugs Act. Therefore, claims about diseases and health conditions listed in Schedule A of the Food and Drugs Act (e.g. cancer, diabetes) cannot be directed to the general public unless authorized in regulations.”

Furthermore, any health claim made about a food product will be subject to pre-market assessment by the Canadian government. This means that food brands, manufacturers, and importers must prepare and subsequently submit an application to Health Canada’s Food Directorate to make a health claim.

Health Canada also regulates explicitly weight loss claims on food products. The department states that “the label, packaging or advertisement of a food must not give the impression that the food is for use in a weight reduction diet unless the food is one of the foods listed in Subsection B.24.003(3) of the Food and Drug Regulations (FDR) and meets the requirements set out in Division 24 for those foods.”

The food products included in Subsection B.24.003(3) include:

  • a meal replacement that meets the compositional requirements contained in B.24.200; a prepackaged meal;
  • 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
  • a food represented for use in a very low energy diet that meets the compositional requirements contained in section B.24.303

According to current legislation, any food item or product that makes weight loss claims and does not meet one of the above conditions would be considered in contravention of the FDR.

The Bottom Line: Keto Claims on Products in Canada

The relevant legislation and regulation set forth by Health Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency don’t specifically mention the word “Keto,” but there are clear indications for food labeling. Specifically, there are strict regulations around health claims and carbohydrate claims for food products. These regulations might affect health food companies looking to market directly to people on the Keto diet or consumers interested in low-carb diets as a pathway toward weight loss.

Lastly, it is also important to note that the Food and Drug Regulations (FDR) also include a section explicitly mentioning “food for special dietary use.” The law states that “no person shall label, package, sell or advertise a food in a manner likely to create an impression that it is a food for special dietary use unless the food is:

  • (f) a formulated liquid diet that meets the requirements contained in sections B.24.101 and B.24.102;
  • (f.1) a meal replacement for special dietary use that meets the requirements contained in section B.24.200;
  • (f.2) a nutritional supplement that meets the requirements contained in section B.24.201;
  • (g) a gluten-free food that meets the requirements contained in section B.24.018;
  • (h) represented for protein-restricted diets; represented for low (naming the amino acid) diets; or
  • (j) a food represented for use in a very low energy diet, where the food meets the requirements contained in section B.24.303.

This section of the FDR would seemingly prohibit the labeling or advertising of Keto claims on products in Canada and for certain foods destined for the Keto Diet or other low-carb diets.



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