Supplemented foods labelling… A Decade of Research

March 7, 2024


If you’ve fallen behind on nutrition labelling news, no worries, we’ve got you covered! In August 2021, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and Health Canada published a food labelling coordination policy. In July 2022, Health Canada unveiled new front-of-package nutrition labelling and the new regulations for supplemented foods.

What are supplemented foods? They are prepackaged foods with one or more supplemental ingredients, such as vitamins, minerals, amino acids and caffeine. Common examples include caffeinated energy drinks and bars with added vitamins or minerals. In a previous blog post, we described the new supplemented foods regulations and explained why they are needed. Today, we take a closer look at the research process behind the labelling requirements with Scientific Project Coordinator and Registered Dietitian, Rana Wahba.

Focusing on health literacy

“When new regulations are published, they are informed by years of research, consultations, and careful analysis by subject matter experts. For the supplemented foods regulations, we looked at more than a decade worth of research”, explains Mrs. Wahba.

This research began back in 2010, when the majority of supplemented foods were categorized as natural health products (NHPs). Over the years, Health Canada accumulated data about what would eventually be known as supplemented foods. In 2016, Mrs. Wahba joined the Department and she began work on a project under a Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) grant awarded to the University of Toronto, which included a research team of colleagues from Health Canada, St. Francis Xavier University and the University of Ottawa.

“My first task was to help adapt a health literacy assessment tool from the U.S. (the Newest Vital Sign) for use in Canada. Looking at an ice cream container, people would be asked to answer six nutrition labelling questions to determine their health literacy level. Once validated, the tool was used to ensure new nutrition labels would be easy to access and understood by all people in Canada, regardless of their health literacy level,” says Mrs. Wahba.

Health Canada then held discussion groups with health professionals to test a wide array of proposed supplemented food labels, followed by interviews and discussion groups with consumers. At each step, the Department used the feedback to refine the labels, removing options that proved too complex or were misunderstood. With a shorter list of labels on hand, the team conducted a large-scale survey across the country. Finally, qualitative research with consumers was done in 2021 to ensure that the multi-component labelling approach met its objectives. This completed the research phase of the project.

On a shelf near you

Using all of this data, Mrs. Wahba and her colleagues developed the supplemented foods regulations and their accompanying labels. You may have even already seen these labels on the market.

“It’s quite exciting to see something you’ve been working on for years finally come to fruition. Knowing the regulations are backed by sound research and that the labels were designed in a way to facilitate understanding by everyone, including those disadvantaged by marginal or limited health literacy, makes me proud,” she says.

But her work doesn’t end here. Mrs. Wahba is heavily involved in an awareness campaign to inform people in Canada about the new supplemented food labels and is planning to continue working on other resources for consumers and health professionals.

“We are continuously scanning the environment to keep track of the new labels appearing on the market. This is a file on which we expect a lot of innovation,” she adds.

As for her advice to Canadians? “Read the label! Look for the supplemented food facts table (SFFt) to know what’s in the food. When you see the caution identifier on the front of the pack, turn the product over to review the caution box to help determine if the food is right for you.”

Figure 3: Example of a bilingual supplemented food caution identifier

Figure 3: Example of a bilingual supplemented food caution identifier

  • Figure 3 - Text description

    This figure shows a supplemented food caution identifier for the principal display panel of a prepackaged product. This identifier is bilingual, with the English text shown first, followed by the French text. There is a white rectangular box outlined by a thin black line. Centred vertically on the left side of the box is a black exclamation mark. To the right of the exclamation mark is a horizontal bar. There is a small amount of white space between the exclamation mark and the bar as well as between the end of the bar and the thin black line that outlines the box. The bar is black and contains the word "Supplemented" followed by a forward slash and the word "Supplémenté", with both words in white, bold, lower case letters, except that the first letter of each word is in upper case. Centred below the black bar are the words "Health Canada" followed by a forward slash and the words "Santé Canada", with all words in black lower case letters, except that the first letter of each word is in upper case.


By January 1, 2026, all supplemented foods must show an SFFt instead of the Nutrition Facts table (NFt) found on other foods. The SFFt includes information on the type and amount of each supplemental ingredient, in addition to the nutrient information that is typically found in the NFt. Some supplemented foods will also be required to display a caution identifier on the front and a caution box on the back. When you see a caution identifier, look for the caution box to help determine if the product is right for you.