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People shop at a grocery store in Saskatoon, on Dec. 6.Liam Richards/The Globe and Mail

In July, 2022, Health Canada announced new regulations for supplemented foods to help better protect consumer health and safety.

These regulations imposed strict limits on the types of food that can be supplemented and the types and amounts of ingredients that can be added.

They also outlined clear labelling requirements, including a new “Supplemented Food Facts table” and cautionary statements.

Supplemented food products already sold in stores as of July, 2022 have until Jan. 1, 2026 to update their labels. The regulations are in force for new supplemented food products.

Here’s what to know about supplemented foods, their ingredients and what the new labels tell you.

What are supplemented foods?

Supplemented foods are prepackaged foods that contain one or more added supplemental ingredients, which can be vitamins, minerals, amino acids (the building blocks of protein), caffeine and/or herbal extracts.

Types of foods allowed to be supplemented include carbonated or non-carbonated water beverages, fruit and vegetable drinks, fruit and vegetable smoothies, snack bars (e.g., cereal, granola and protein bars), candies and chocolate, chewing gum and ice pops.

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The new Supplemented Food Facts table includes core nutrient information per serving as well as a list of each supplement ingredient.Handout

Infant foods, dietary meal replacements and alcoholic beverages are excluded from the supplemented food category.

Examples of supplemented foods include caffeinated energy drinks and protein bars, energy drinks with amino acids (e.g., taurine, tyrosine) and/or herbal ingredients (e.g., ginseng, ginkgo biloba), as well as bottled water and snack bars with added vitamins and minerals.

How do supplemented foods differ from fortified foods?

Fortification involves adding vitamins and minerals to foods to replace nutrients lost during refining (e.g., adding B vitamins to white flour and ready-to-eat breakfast cereals).

Fortifying foods also ensures that substitute foods have a similar nutrient profile as the ones they are replacing (e.g., fortifying non-dairy milks with calcium, vitamin D, vitamin B12 and zinc).

As well, some foods are fortified to prevent health problems associated with nutrient deficiencies. Vitamin D is added to milk as a public-health measure to help prevent bone diseases such as rickets in children. Salt is fortified with iodine to guard against goiter, an enlargement of the thyroid gland, and hypothyroidism (low thyroid).

Ingredients added to supplemented foods, on the other hand, provide a specific physiological effect. For example, caffeine is added to energy drinks marketed to increase mental alertness.

Why do supplemented foods have new labels?

The new labelling requirements for supplemented foods allow consumers to recognize that these products are different than regular foods.

That’s important since, while supplemented foods are generally safe, their ingredients can be harmful for some people, especially young children and pregnant people.

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Some supplemented foods are required to display a cautionary statement because of the type or amount of supplement ingredient in the product.Handout

Because kids have a smaller body size, it takes less caffeine to affect them. Too much caffeine can cause increased anxiety, increased heart rate, acid reflux and sleep problems.

Overconsumption of caffeine during pregnancy may increase the risk of miscarriage and interfere with fetal growth.

Consuming too much of a supplement ingredient could also be risky for the general population. Excess calcium, for example, has been linked to kidney stones. Supplementing with single amino acids could cause an amino acid imbalance in the body.

What do supplemented food labels tell us?

Under the new regulations, all supplemented foods must carry a standardized “Supplemented Foods Facts table” (SFFt).

Similar to the nutrition facts table, the new SFFt includes core nutrient information per serving. But it also includes a section called “Supplemented with” that lists each supplement ingredient in the food along with their amounts.

Some supplemented foods are required to display a cautionary statement because of the type or amount of supplement ingredient in the product.

This statement will tell you who the supplemented food is not recommended for and how much of it to eat or drink to prevent consuming too much of the supplement ingredient. It will also tell you not to eat to drink the supplemented food with other products that contain the same ingredient.

For instance, all supplemented products containing zinc have two cautionary statements: 1) “Not recommended for those under 14 years old,” and 2) “Do not eat/drink on the same day as any other supplemental foods or supplements with zinc.”

Whey protein and cereal bars with added caffeine that contain more than 56 mg of caffeine from all sources will require the cautionary statement “Not recommended for those under 14 years old, pregnant or breastfeeding women or individuals sensitive to caffeine.”

Foods that require a caution box on the back of the package will carry an identifier (!Supplemented) on the front of the label.

Leslie Beck, a Toronto-based private practice dietitian, is director of food and nutrition at Medcan. Follow her on Twitter @LeslieBeckRD

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