Nutrition labelling refers to the nutrition information that is found in the "Nutrition Facts" panel on food labels. It has been mandatory for most pre-packaged foods since December 2005. The goal of nutrition labelling is to help Canadians make more informed food choices, and enable consumers to compare products more easily. The food label must list the total amount of calories and 13 different nutrients. The regulations also include conditions for nutrient content claims, and health claims, which includes function claims, nutrient function claims, and general health claims.

Sugars can be found in three different places on the food label -- in the Nutrition Facts Table, in the Ingredient list, and in a "nutrient content claim" if a specific claim about sugars content is made.

Sugars in the Nutrition Facts Table

The Nutrition Facts Table provides information on Calories and 13 nutrients for the serving size shown. As part of the total carbohydrate, sugars and fibre must also be listed in the Nutrition Facts Table. Sugars include naturally occurring sugars found in foods such as milk, fruits and vegetables, as well as table sugar, honey and syrups added to foods. Sugars are listed in grams.

Carbohydrates - The total amount of carbohydrate and two types of carbohydrate (sugars and fibre) in a serving of food are among the 13 nutrients that must be listed in the Nutrition Facts Table. If sugar alcohols are present in a food, their total content must also be declared in the Nutrition Facts Table. Other carbohydrate components such as starch, and soluble and insoluble fibre may be voluntarily listed on the Nutrition Facts Table. 

Nutrition facts label

Sugars - Sugars refer to all monosaccharides (e.g. glucose, fructose) and disaccharides (e.g. sucrose, lactose) naturally occurring in foods (e.g. milk, fruit and vegetables) or added to foods (e.g. table sugar, honey or syrups). Sugar (sucrose) from sugar cane or sugar beet has the same chemical make-up as the sucrose found in all fruits and vegetables. Sucrose, whether naturally occurring or added to foods, is identical to the body and has the same effects on health. This is true for all mono- and disaccharides; the source does not affect the chemical composition of sugars nor their effect on health.

*Nutrition Facts table for a food product containing sugars. 

 

Sugars in the Ingredient List

All pre-packaged foods require an ingredient list. The ingredient list tells you what ingredients are in a packaged food, and are listed by weight from most to least. Therefore, if sugars are in the food product, they must be listed in the ingredient list. Some examples of words that you may see on the ingredient list that refer to different types of sugars (and their source) are listed below:

Sugars listed in the ingredient list Source of sugar
Sucrose, sugar, liquid sugar. invert sugar, molasses Sugar cane or sugar beets
Glucose/fructose, dextrose, corn syrup solids, dextrin Corn starch
Honey Honey
Maple syrup Maple sap
(Concentrated) fruit juice Fruits such as pear, apple, grape for example

If one or more sugar alcohols are in a food product, they must be listed individually in the ingredient list. Isomalt, lactitol, maltitol, mannitol, sorbitol, xylitol, and erythritol are all examples of sugar alcohols you may see in the ingredient list. 

Sugars-Related Nutrient Content Claims

"Nutrient content claims" describe the amount of a nutrient in a food, and are meant to help consumers make informed dietary choices. A variety of nutrient content claims pertaining to sugars are permitted in Canada according to the Food and Drug Regulations

Sugar-Related Claims Regulations
sugar-free
free of sugar, no sugar, 0 sugar, zero sugar, without sugar, contains no sugar, sugarless
Contains <0.5 g sugars per reference amount and "free of energy" (<5 cal per reference amount)
reduced in sugar
reduced sugar, sugar-reduced, less sugar, lower sugar, lower in sugar
Compared to similar reference food, contains >25% less sugars and >5 g less sugars/reference amount
lower in sugar
less sugar, lower sugar
Compared to a reference food of the same food group, contains >25% less sugars and >5 g less sugars/reference amount
no added sugar
no sugar added, without added sugar
Contains no added sugars, no ingredients containing added sugars, or ingredients that contain sugars that substitute for added sugars
unsweetened Meets requirements for "no added sugar" and contains no sweeteners. 

*Note: Only the terms and wording outlined above from the Food and Drug Regulations can be used to make a claim

**"Similar reference food" means a food of the same type as the food to which is it compared and that has not been processed, formulated, reformulated, or otherwise modified in a manner that increases or decreases either the energy value, or the amount of a nutrient that is the subject of the comparison. 

All carbohydrates (including sugars that are naturally occurring and added to foods) contribute 4 calories per gram. Therefore, if claims such as "no sugar added" or "reduced in sugar" are made on food products, there should be a significant reduction in calories for changes to be meaningful to the consumer. However, this is not always the case. There is no requirement for these products to be reduced in carbohydrates or calories, and often alternative ingredients such as starches will be added in place of the sugars. According to research conducted in 2012, the majority of health professionals expect calories to be reduced by at least 25% for products making a "reduced in sugar" claim. However, a survey of food products in Toronto grocery stores in 2012 revealed that one-third of the products were not reduced in calories by at least 25%: 15% of products were actually higher in calories, and 18% higher in carbohydrates compared to similar reference products. 

While products with "no added sugar" cannot contain added sugars or ingredients containing added sugars, they usually contain naturally-occurring sugars; therefore "no added sugar" is not synonymous with "no sugar" or no carbohydrate. 

Sugar claims may therefore be misleading to the consumer if they are used incorrectly or if there is not a meaningful reduction in calories. The perception that these products are free of sugars and/or lower in carbohydrates may be of particular concern for people with diabetes who need to manager their overall carbohydrate intake. 

Other Sugars-Related Claims

Natural

Sugar (sucrose) is a natural product obtained from sugar cane and sugar beets. To meet the Canadian standard for sugar, the sucrose found naturally in sugar cane and sugar beets must be separated from the other parts of the plant and impurities. The sugar refining process is a purification process used to separate pure sugar and achieve at least 99.8% purity as required by Canada's food regulations. Sugar is considered natural because the refining process does not result in any physical, chemical or biological change to the sugar (sucrose) from how it is formed in nature. The refining process also does not add any vitamins, minerals, artificial flavouring, or food additives. 


Pure

All sugar refined in Canada meets the definition of a "pure" product. This is because it does not contain any other substance but sugar (at least 99.8% sucrose according to Canadian food standards). Sugar does not contain any added preservatives or other artificial ingredients. 

 

Reference: 

Bernstein JB, DiAngelo CL, Marsden SL, Brisbois TD. (2013). Sugar claims on foods: Health professionals' understanding compared to marketplace practice. Canadian Journal of Diabetes, 37(4):S71.