Food vs Natural Health Product (Dietary Supplement) Classification

The distinction between foods and dietary supplements (natural health products) is often challenging for those groups looking to sell these products in Canada. However product classification is a first and necessary step in the process of getting these products to market. There are many ingredients that sit on the food/natural health product interface; many ingredients can be found in both foods and natural health products. Furthermore, many foods and ingredients in foods have health benefits.

Health Canada’s guidance document is still one of the most valuable tools available to anyone wishing to market their consumer products in Canada. The main message of the guidance document is as follows: If the product in question can be consumed freely and without regard to quantity, and is in a format that is generally understood to be a food format (liquid drinks, snack bars, shakes) then there is a good possibility the product is a food, however the criteria below all need to be taken into consideration before proceeding.


Product Composition

When a product contains an added ingredient that has no known food purpose, and the ingredient has only a therapeutic use, then the product is likely to be classified as a natural health product rather than a food. A product containing a substance that has a known food purpose but the substance is present at a level that is consistent with therapeutic levels, would also be classified as a natural health product.


Product Representation

A product is likely to be classified and regulated as a natural health product if it is represented (by way of it’s package label or advertisements) as a product having a therapeutic use.


Product Format

Unlike foods, natural health products are typically sold in formats that allow them to be consumed in measured or controlled amounts (doses) such as tablets or capsules. Format alone may be a deciding factor in how a product is sold. For example, a probiotic such as yogurt is a food in Canada, however any probiotic in capsule form would be regulated as a natural health product in Canada and subject to compliance with Health Canada’s Natural Health Product Regulations.


Public Perception and History of Use

If the public perception associated with a product and its history of use indicate it is sold for therapeutic purposes, this may support the conclusion that the product is a natural health product rather than a food.


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