Our love affair with sugar is getting sour

If you haven’t heard by now, sugar is the new trans fat–it’s taking the rap for our increasing rates of obesity and chronic disease.

While not the only culprit to blame, it’s true that the amount of sugar in our food is increasing. According to StatsCan, roughly one in five calories in the Canadian diet comes from sugar, whether naturally occurring (milk, fruit) or added (prepared foods).

But that number doesn’t tell the whole story. In the same report, we see that between 35 to 45% of those sugar calories come from added sugars in beverages, snack foods and other prepared foods. A typical sweetened yogurt can have the same sugar content as a soft drink, cup for cup. It’s clear Canadians like their sweets.

The World Health Organization recommends no more than 10% of calories come from added sugars, in all their forms. Whether sugar, high fructose corn syrup, agave or cane syrup, all contribute to disease risk. Links are strengthening in the research between increasing sugar consumption and heart disease, stroke and diabetes; all of which might have consumers looking to cut their sweet tooth.

Health Canada is changing nutrition labels to assist the public in breaking their love affair with sugar, albeit in a typically confusing way.

In an earlier blog, I reported that proposed new labeling would see the breakout of added sugars on the nutrition facts panel; however, those regulations have been scaled back. Instead, Health Canada wishes to propose a daily value (DV) for total sugars. The trouble with that is, it doesn’t distinguish between the natural–and healthy–sugars in a handful of berries and the sugar added to a soft drink.

Both will be made to fit into this new proposed sugar budget.

Understanding the Lingo

Food manufacturers often move far more quickly than regulations, in response to consumer demand, so what you will likely see is an increase in new products that are either less sweet or have fewer caloric sweeteners added.

Consumers and retailers are already being inundated with front-of-packaging messaging regarding the sweet stuff. Here is a look at what those messages mean.

No added sugar: this means no actual sugar or caloric sweeteners added to the product. However, this product will likely contain artificial sweeteners such as sucralose (Splenda) or aspartame.

Unsweetened: this label means that no sweetener–caloric or non– has been added to the product

Sweetened with fruit juice: this label often refers to fruit juice concentrate, which is a form of fruit juice so concentrated that it is nutritionally similar to any other caloric sweetener

Health-conscious consumers are going to be on the lookout for foods and beverages with lower sugar content. So keep an eye out for the growing market in lightly sweetened and unsweetened foods.


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