Sugars

Learn to make healthier food choices by using the food label to identify foods lower in sugars.

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About sugars

Sugars are a type of carbohydrate.

Sugars are found in fruit, vegetables and milk.

These foods also contain essential nutrients such as:

  • fibre
  • vitamins
  • potassium

Sugars are also found in high amounts in fruit juice (including fruit juice concentrates), honey and syrups.

Sugars are added to many foods during processing or preparation in order to
add:

  • taste (sweetness)
  • texture
  • colour (browning)

Sugars can also be used to preserve foods, such as fruit jams and jellies.

Sources of sugars

Sugary drinks are the top source of sugars in the Canadian diet. These include:

  • soft drinks
  • sport drinks
  • energy drinks
  • flavoured milks
  • 100% fruit juice
  • fruit-flavoured drinks
  • flavoured plant-based beverages
  • flavoured waters with added sugars
  • other sweetened hot or cold beverages

Many packaged foods contain added sugars.

Other examples of foods that are high in sugars include:

  • sugary breakfast cereals
  • candy and chocolate bars
  • jams, jellies and preserves
  • dairy desserts, such as
    • pudding
    • ice cream
    • sweetened yogurt
  • sweet baked goods and desserts such as
    • cakes
    • donuts
    • cookies
    • pastries
    • granola bars

Health effects and recommendations

Excess consumption of sugars is a concern, as it can lead to tooth decay and excess calorie consumption. Excess calories lead to overweight and obesity. Obesity is a risk factor for chronic diseases such as:

  • type 2 diabetes
  • some forms of cancer
  • cardiovascular disease

Health Canada recommends a healthy eating pattern where most sugars come from fruit, vegetables and unsweetened dairy products such as plain milk or yogurt. Other sources of sugars can increase calories without benefiting our health.  

Situation in Canada

Obesity and chronic diseases, such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease, are a major public health concern in Canada. Diet, particularly a diet that is high in sodium, sugars and saturated fat, is one of the top risk factors for chronic diseases.

Using the food label

In Canada almost all packaged food labels must have an ingredient list and a nutrition facts table. This information can help you to make healthier food choices.

Health Canada has recently introduced food labelling changes to help Canadians understand the sugars content of their food. The food industry has until 2022 to meet the new regulations.

Health Canada is consulting on a mandatory front-of-package nutrition symbol for foods high in sugars as well as sodium and saturated fat. This initiative aims to help Canadians more easily identify foods that are high in saturated fat, sodium and sugars.

Nutrition facts table

A % daily value (%DV) has been included for total sugars to help you:

  • compare the sugars content of different foods
  • understand the relative amount of sugars in the context of total daily consumption
Sugars information

Shown here are two images of the Nutrition Facts table. The one on the left is the original Nutrition Facts table. The one on the right is the new Nutrition Facts table. There is explanatory text outside of the new Nutrition Facts table table, on the right side, with arrows pointing to the new changes to sugars information within the table.

Following is a description of the original Nutrition Facts table. Left justified at the top of the table is the heading Nutrition Facts and stacked below it is the heading Valeur nutritive. Both are in bold. The next line is Per 250 mL, forward slash, par 250 mL. There is a thick rule below the serving size information that spans the width of the table.

Left justified on the next line is the subheading Amount, in bold and right justified on the same line is the subheading percent symbol Daily Value, in bold. Stacked directly below the subheading "Amount" is Teneur, in bold. Right justified on the same line is percent symbol valeur quotidienne also in bold.  There is a thick rule below the subheadings that spans the width of the table. Note: this rule is not as thick as the one below the serving size information.

The next line is Calories, forward slash, Calories, in bold, followed by 110. There is a thin rule under the Calories information that spans the width of the table. Left justified on the next line is Fat, forward slash, Lipides, in bold, followed by 0 and a lowercase g. Right justified on the same line is the number zero followed by a percent symbol. There is a thin rule below the fat information that spans the width of the table.

Indented on the next line is Saturated, forward slash, saturés followed by 0 and a lower case g. Indented on the next line is a plus symbol followed by Trans, forward slash, trans followed by 0 and a lowercase g. Right justified and vertically centered against the saturated and trans information on the left is 0 followed by a percent symbol. There is a thin rule below the trans information that spans the width of the table.

The next line is Cholesterol, forward slash, Cholestérol, in bold, followed by 0 and mg in lowercase. There is a thin rule under the cholesterol information that spans the width of the table.

The next line is Sodium, forward slash, Sodium in bold followed by 0 and mg in lowercase. Right justified on the same line is 0 followed by a percent symbol. There is a thin rule under the sodium information that spans the width of the table. The next line is Carbohydrate, forward slash, Glucides, in bold, followed by 26 and a lowercase g. Right justified on the same line is 9 followed by a percent symbol.  There is a thin rule under the carbohydrate information that spans the width of the table.

Indented on the next line is Fibre, forward slash, Fibres, followed by 0 and a lowercase g.  Right justified on the same line is 0 followed by a percent symbol. There is a thin rule under the fibre information that spans the width of the table. Indented on the next line is Sugars, forward slash, Sucres, followed by 22 and a lowercase g. There is a thin rule under the sugars information that spans the width of the table.

The next line is Protein, forward slash, Protéines, in bold, followed by 2 and a lowercase g. There is a thick rule under the protein information that spans the width of the table.

The next line is Vitamin A, forward slash, Vitamine A. Right justified on the same line is 0 followed by a percent symbol.  There is a thin rule under the vitamin A information that spans the width of the table.

The next line is Vitamin C, forward slash, Vitamine C. Right justified on the same line is 120 followed by a percent symbol.  There is a thin rule under the vitamin C information that spans the width of the table.

The next line is Calcium, forward slash, Calcium. Right justified on the same line is 2 followed by a percent symbol.  There is a thin rule under the calcium information that spans the width of the table.

The next line is Iron, forward slash, Fer. Right justified on the same line is 0 followed by a percent symbol. This is the end of the original Nutrition Facts table description.

Next is a description of the new Nutrition Facts table, which is pictured beside the original Nutrition Facts table.

Left justified at the top of the table is the heading Nutrition Facts and stacked below it is the heading Valeur nutritive. Both are in bold. The next line is Per 1 cup open parenthesis 250 mL close parenthesis. The next line is pour 1 tasse open parenthesis 250 mL close parenthesis. There is a thin rule below pour 1 tasse open parenthesis 250 mL close parenthesis that spans the width of the table. The next line is Calories in bold followed by 110, also in bold. Right justified on the same line is the subheading percent symbol Daily Value in bold. Stacked under this is percent symbol valeur quotidienne also in bold. Both Percent Daily Value and percent valeur quotidienne are followed by an asterisk that refers to a footnote at the bottom of the Nutrition Facts table. There is a thick rule under the Calories information that ends after the number 110.  It does not span the width of the table.

Left justified on the next line is Fat, forward slash, Lipides, in bold, followed by 0 and a lowercase g. Right justified on the same line is the number zero followed by a percent symbol. Indented on the next line is Saturated, forward slash, saturés followed by 0 and a lower case g. Indented on the next line is a plus symbol followed by Trans, forward slash, trans followed by 0 and a lowercase g. Right justified and vertically centered against the saturated and trans information on the left is 0 followed by a percent symbol. There is a thin rule below the trans information that spans the width of the table.

The next line is Carbohydrate, forward slash, Glucides, in bold, followed by 26 and a lowercase g. Indented on the next line is Fibre, forward slash, Fibres, followed by 0 and a lowercase g. Right justified on the same line is a placeholder for percent Daily Value of Fibre followed by 0 and a percent symbol. Indented on the next line is Sugars, forward slash, Sucres, followed by 22 and a lowercase g. Right justified on the same line is the number 22 followed by a percent symbol. There is a thin rule under the sugars information that spans the width of the table.

The next line is Protein, forward slash, Protéines, in bold, followed by 2 and a lowercase g. There is a thin rule under the protein information that spans the width of the table.

The next line is Cholesterol, forward slash, Cholestérol, in bold, followed by 0 and mg in lowercase. There is a thin rule under the cholesterol information that spans the width of the table.

The next line is Sodium, in bold, followed by 0 and mg in lowercase. Right justified on the same line is 0 followed by a percent symbol. There is a thick rule under the sodium information that spans the width of the table.

The next line is Potassium followed by 450 and mg in lowercase. Right justified on the same line is 10 followed by a percent symbol. There is a thin rule under the potassium information that spans the width of the table.

The next line is Calcium followed by 30 and mg in lowercase. Right justified on the same line is 2 followed by a percent symbol. There is a thin rule below the calcium information that spans the width of the table.

The next line is Iron, forward slash, Fer followed by 0 and mg in lowercase. Right justified on the same line is 0 followed by a percent symbol. There is a thick rule under the iron information that spans the width of the Nutrition Facts table. The next two lines is the percent Daily Value footnote that was referred to at the beginning of the table description. The footnote starts with an asterisk followed by the statement: 5 percent symbol or less is a little,15 percent symbol or more is a lot and on the second line is an asterisk followed by  the statement: 5 percent symbol ou moins c’est peu , 15 percent symbol ou plus c’est beaucoup. The terms ‘a little’, ‘a lot’, ‘peu’, and ‘beaucoup’ are in bold. This is the end of the new Nutrition Facts table.

There is text shown outside of the table to the right. First, there is an arrow pointing to the sugars line which is circled within the table.  The text reads: New percent symbol Daily Value for total sugars. At the bottom right, there is an arrow pointing to the percent Daily Value footnote which is circled within the table. The text reads: New footnote to help interpret the percent symbol Daily Value. This is the end of the new Nutrition Facts table description.

The % DV for the amount of total sugars in the nutrition facts table is based on 100 grams. This value is not a recommended level of intake. Instead it is the amount of total sugars that is consistent with a healthy eating pattern. That is, a diet where sugars come mostly from fruit, vegetables and plain milk.

List of ingredients

With the changes, sugars-based ingredients will have to be grouped:

  • in brackets
  • by weight
  • in descending order after the name ‘sugars’

This will help you to:

  • see that sugars have been added to the food
  • understand how much sugars are added to the food compared to other ingredients

In the next example, you can tell by the order they’re in that there’s more:

  • fancy molasses by weight than brown sugar or sugar
  • sugars in the food by weight than any other ingredient
List of ingredients: sugars

There are two ingredient lists shown in the image. On the left is an example of the original list of ingredients. On the right is the new format for the list of ingredients. The sugars sources are circled in red in each list.

The ingredient list on the left is contained within a grey box outlined by a black rule. All of the text within the box is black and in capital letters. A comma separates each ingredient in the list. There are 4 lines of text that run horizontally within the box.

The first line starts with the word ingredients, followed by a colon. This is followed on the same line by the words flour, followed by comma, followed by fancy molasses, followed by comma, followed by vegetable oil. The next line starts with the word shortening followed by comma, followed by brown sugar, followed by comma followed by liquid whole egg, followed by comma, followed by sugar. The next line starts with the word salt, followed by a comma, followed by sodium bicarbonate, followed by comma, followed by spices, followed by comma, followed by colour.

The last line in the box starts with the word Contains, followed by a colon, followed by the word wheat, followed by comma, followed by egg.

The terms fancy molasses, brown sugar, and sugar are circled in red in this list of ingredients.

The ingredient list on the right is contained within a white box outlined by a black rule. All text inside the box is black with the first letter of each ingredient capitalized. A bullet separates each ingredient in the list. There are 3 lines of text that runs horizontally within the box. The first line starts with the word Ingredients, in bold, followed by a colon. This is followed on the same line by Sugars, open parentheses, fancy molasses followed by comma, followed by brown sugar, followed by comma, followed by sugar, close parentheses. The parenthesis is followed by a bullet, followed by Flour, followed by a bullet, followed by Vegetable oil.

The next line starts with shortening followed by a bullet, followed by Liquid whole egg, followed by a bullet, followed by Salt, followed by a bullet, followed by Sodium bicarbonate, followed by a bullet, followed by Spices, followed by a bullet, followed by Allura red. The last line in the box starts with the word Contains, in bold, followed by a colon. This is followed on the same line by the word Wheat, followed by a bullet, followed by Egg. The "sugars, open parentheses, fancy molasses, followed by comma, followed by brown sugar, followed by comma, followed by sugar, close parentheses" text is circled in red.

Sugars added to food can include:

  • white sugar, beet sugar, raw sugar or brown sugar
  • agave syrup, honey, maple syrup, barley malt syrup or fancy molasses
  • fructose, glucose, glucose-fructose (also known as high fructose corn syrup), maltose, sucrose or dextrose
  • fruit juice and purée concentrates that are added to replace sugars in foods

Hint: Words ending in "ose" are usually sugars.

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