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Canadians are more aware of their health than ever before and are using natural health and organic products as part of their healthy lifestyle.

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Canadians are more aware of their health than ever before and are using natural health and organic products as part of their healthy lifestyle.

Vitamins and minerals, herbal remedies, probiotics and homeopathic and traditional medicines fall into the category of natural health products (NHPs). Their ingredients and purposes vary but they share common characteristics: they are available for self-selection, their medicinal ingredients must be derived from a natural source and they must be licenced by Health Canada to be sold in this country.

"NHPs are becoming part of a healthy lifestyle for more and more Canadians and are being used for many reasons including – preventing or treating an illness or condition, reducing health risks and maintaining good health," says Helen Sherrard, president of the Canadian Health Food Association (CHFA), which represents the natural health sector.

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The market includes NHPs made with organically grown natural ingredients, which is important as more Canadians are also choosing organic.

Organic agriculture prohibits the use of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, sewage sludge, genetically modified organisms (GMOs) irradiation, growth hormones, artificial flavours, colours and preservatives.

"As a result, more Canadians are buying organic foods because they know when making this choice they are not only investing in their health but also supporting sustainable environmentally friendly practices and animal welfare," stated Sherrard.

So what should you look for when buying NHPs or organic products?

Canadians can identify NHPs that have been licensed for sale in Canada by looking for the eight-digit Natural Product Number (NPN) or in the case of a homeopathic medicine a DIN-HM on the label.  A NPN, or DIN-HM means that the product has been authorized for sale in Canada and is safe and effective when used according the instructions on the label.

"In Canada NHPs must undergo pre-market review before they may be sold in Canada.  This process requires that evidence supporting the safety, efficacy, or any claims made, and quality of the product be submitted to the Natural Health Products Directorate for assessment in order to be licenced," added Sherrard.

Organic food is also strictly regulated; foods which cross interprovincial or international borders are regulated under both the Food and Drug Regulations and the Organic Product Regulations, and are subject to enforcement by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

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Similarly, organic foods that are made and sold only within their province of origin are subject to federal truthful-labelling laws and may be subject to provincial organic regulations.

"The strict and highly enforced standards have been established to give Canadian consumers' confidence and assurance that when they see a certified organic label they are purchasing a product with an organic content of 95% or more," stated Sherrard.

When it comes to purchasing NHPs and organics there are lots of options but visiting your local natural health retailer is a great place to start.

With a wide variety of vitamins and supplements and the majority of produce often organic, it's a great one-stop-shop. In addition, you will find a large assortment of meats, dairy and pre-packaged specialty products that are not always found in larger grocery stores.

Finally, friendly and informed staff can help you, answer any questions you may have and ensure you are purchasing products that are best for you.  The Canadian Health Food Association (CHFA) has a great tool you can use to find your nearest natural health retailer at chfa.ca.

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