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Keto Claims in Canada: Rules and Regulations

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 take a look at the popularity of the Keto Diet in Canada and the main reasons why Canadians are attracted to Keto and other low-carb nutritional programs. We then look at some of the relevant Canadian laws and regulations regarding low-carbohydrate and Keto claims in Canada on food products.

The Growth of the Keto Diet in Canada 

In early 2020 the Agri-Food Analytics Lab at Dalhousie University released 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 are following the Keto diet while 10% are thinking 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 more than $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.

Despite the fact that the Keto Diet might not be enjoying the same levels of popularity as 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 actual 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, and many even have a dedicated Keto products tab/page for their online shoppers. These retailers understand the popularity of low-carb diets and have data-relevant insight into the dietary and nutritional interests of consumers in the country. 

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 sort of 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. For health food brands looking to market to the Canadian consumer interested in the Keto diet, what exactly does Canadian law and regulation say about making Keto or other similar low carb claims?  

Canadian Regulation on Carbohydrate Claims 

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

As low carbohydrate diets have grown in popularity across Canada over the past two decades, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency has created several regulations that specifically control carbohydrate claims on food packaging, labeling, and advertising. Among the relevant regulations 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 that are used on the food labels and advertisements are also subject to the provisions of the Food and Drugs Act and Regulations (FDAR). 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 trade-marks regarding carbohydrates are 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.” These terms can thus also not be used on the packaging, labeling, or advertising. 
  • The Agency also believes that there is not sufficient 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 labeling or advertising that states, suggests, or implies that a relationship exists between the 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 food product is certainly 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 stipulations set forth in the Food and Drugs Act (FDA). 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 labeling 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 specifically regulates 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, then, any food item or product that makes weight-loss claims and that does not meet one of the above conditions would be considered in contravention of the FDR.

Can You Use the Word Keto on Food Product Labeling or Packaging?

The relevant legislation and regulation as set forth by Health Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency doesn’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 certainly 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 towards weight loss. 

It is also important to note that the Food and Drug Regulations (FDR) also includes a section that specifically mentions “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.

Keto Certified Claims in Canada

The previous section of the FDR would seemingly prohibit the labeling or advertising of certain foods for the Keto Diet or other low-carb diets. However, the use of the Keto Certified label does not indicate that a product meets any guidelines other than the guidelines set forth by The Paleo Foundation in the Keto Certified Standards.  Dozens of products in Canada bear the Keto Certified mark or bilingual Keto Certified logo, and have been authorized use by The Paleo Foundation.