Nutrition Trends

In response to a national food trends survey, an article in the Globe and Mail noted, “We think we are knowledgeable about food. But we are still confused about fats . . . .” What else did the survey discover about Canadians?

Tracking Nutrition Trends is a nationwide survey of self-reported food and nutrition knowledge, attitudes and behaviors. The Canadian Council of Food and Nutrition asked Canadians questions about food labels, what makes food healthy, influences on food purchases, and food safety. The answers may surprise you.

Product labels are one way to communicate with consumers about food. More than half the population reads food labels but what we look for may differ. Ingredient lists are important to some and others look at best-before dates. Looking at serving size and calories topped the list. Ninety percent of Canadians care about food safety but nearly one-third do not care, or do not know if a food is organically grown, contains probiotics, or is made using biotechnology.

Most Canadians know that eating less fat can lower cholesterol in the blood. Two-thirds of people thought that the cholesterol you eat is a major factor affecting blood cholesterol. In fact, the cholesterol we eat has little or no impact on blood cholesterol. Saturated and trans fat matter the most since both can raise the ‘bad’ (LDL) cholesterol in blood. Many of us also think margarine is lower in fat and calories than butter. This is wrong. While it is true that margarine has less saturated fat than butter, it has the same amount of total fat and calories.

Two popular habits that can spell trouble are skipping breakfast and mindless eating. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, yet 30% of people said they skipped this meal at least once a week. People who eat breakfast have a healthier body weight, are more likely to get the nutrients they need, and have healthier lifestyles overall. Nearly 80% of those surveyed said they eat while doing something else like watching TV, driving, or working on a computer. Distraction leads to overeating as we do not notice hunger signals and lose track of the amount we eat.

Given the rise in media focus on food and nutrition in recent years, the lack of awareness about some nutrition issues was unexpected. Information allows us to make appropriate food choices but the vast amount of information is sometimes hard to sort out and remember. Accessible sources of information included food labels and the internet. Credibility of information also plays a part. The most credible source of nutrition information is dietitians but only 19% of people reported getting information from them.

Are our food behaviors consistent with our nutrition knowledge? Do we do what we know we should? Not always, but the survey had good news. Nearly 60% of Canadians said they did make efforts to be healthier. Top changes were choosing more vegetables, fibre, whole grains, and eating less fat and sugar.

Reach out and contact a Registered Dietitian next time you have a food or nutrition question.


Originator: Jadwiga Dolega-Cieszkowski Heartland Health Region

Reviewer: Shari Tremaine, Five Hills Health Region


Beck, Leslie, “Q & A on Nutrition Trends for 2009, Canada AM, CTV,, January 7, 2009.

Beck, Leslie, “The Results Are In: We’re a Nation of Mindless Eaters”, The Globe and Mail, p.L4, October 15, 2008.

Canadian Council of Food and Nutrition (CCFN/CCAN), Tracking Nutrition Trends VII, 2008.

Chianello, Joanne, “Canadians Uninformed About Food Choices”, The Ottawa Citizen, p.A5, October 24, 2008.

DiFrancesco, Loretta, “Tracking Nutrition Trends VII: Highlights from the Canadian Council of Food and Nutrition Survey of Food and Nutrition Knowledge, Attitudes and Behaviors of Canadians 2008”, Canadian Journal of Dietetic Practice and Research, 69(4): insert., 2008.