Health Canada regulations require most food labels to carry a mandatory, "Nutrition Facts" table listing calories and 13 core nutrients. This standardized nutrition information is designed to help Canadians make informed choices for healthy eating, compare products more easily, assess the nutritional value of foods and better manage special diets. The regulations also included criteria for nutrient content claims and diet-related health claims.

For more detailed information on the nutrition information labelling requirements, visit Health Canada.

Ingredient List

All pre-packaged foods require a list of ingredients. Ingredients must be listed in descending order by weight - the ingredient that weighs the most must be listed first and the lowest weight ingredient listed last. All types of sugars added to foods as ingredients must be listed in the ingredient list (e.g. sugar, molasses, honey, maple syrup, glucose, dextrose, etc.). All ingredients must be listed by defined common names, as explained in the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, Guide to Food Labelling and Advertising.

The term "sugar" is the common name for sugar, liquid sugar, invert sugar or liquid invert sugar. Use of the common name "sugar" in food labelling refers to the food known as "sucrose". Canada's Food and Drug Regulations specify a compositional standard for sugar - "sugar shall contain not less than 99.8% sucrose" (See Division 18). Compositional standards for other types of sugar are also defined in the Regulations, including: icing sugar, brown sugar, fancy molasses, etc. All of these types of sugar are derived from sugar cane or sugar beet.

The term "glucose-fructose" is the common name used on Canadian food ingredient lists for high fructose corn syrup, described in the Food and Drug Regulations as "glucose syrups and isomerized glucose syrups, singly or in combination, where the fructose fraction does not exceed 60 percent of the sweetener on a dry basis". All of these ingredients contribute to the total sugars (naturally occurring and added) and total carbohydrate listed in the Nutrition Facts Table.

Carbohydrates in the Nutrition Facts Table

The Nutrition Facts Table, which lists the content of calories and 13 core nutrients, is mandatory on most pre-packaged foods. The total amount of carbohydrate and two types of carbohydrate (sugars and fibre) in a serving of food are among the core nutrients that must be listed on the Nutrition Facts Table. Other carbohydrate components (e.g. starch, soluble and insoluble fibre) may be voluntarily listed.

Within the core list, sugars refer to all monosaccharides (e.g. glucose, fructose) and disaccharides (e.g. sucrose, lactose) present 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.

Nutrition Facts label

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.

All nutrient information provided in the Nutrition Facts Table is based on a specific amount (serving) of food which varies according to product type. Daily Values (DVs) are "reference standards" outlined in the Food and Drug Regulations for most nutrients in the Nutrition Facts Table. The DV for carbohydrate is 300 grams, and the DV for fibre is 25 grams. These values are based on a 2000-calorie reference diet, and indicate that the Canadian diet should provide 55% of energy as carbohydrate from a variety of sources. Canadians are also advised to emphasize their intake of fibre-containing foods using Canada's Food Guide. In the Nutrition Facts Table, nutrient content is expressed as a percentage of the DV (% DV). Therefore, the carbohydrate content of a food is expressed as a percentage of 300 grams and the fibre content is expressed as a percentage of 25 grams.

There is no % DV for sugars because there is no generally accepted sugar target for a healthy population.

*Nutrition Facts table for a food product containing sugars. 

 

Carbohydrates and Nutrient Content Claims

Nutrient content claims are statements that highlight or describe the amount of a nutrient in a food. A variety of nutrient content claims pertaining to sugars and carbohydrates are permitted, however, new conditions apply for foods to qualify for certain claims. Only the terms and wording outlined in the Food and Drug Regulations can be used to make a claim.

Claims for sugars and Carbohydrates:

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" The food is processed, reformulated, or modified so that compared to a similar reference food, it 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.
"low in sugar", "light" Not permitted
"low carbohydrate" Not permitted
"carbohydrate-reduced" Not permitted
"source of complex carbohydrate" Not permitted

For more information about Carbohydrate and Nutrient Content Claims, see Sugars, Carbohydrates and the New Food Label, and the 2003 Guide to Food Labelling and Advertising.

Claims for fibre:

"Source of fibre", "high source of fibre", "very high source of fibre" and "more fibre" are all claims that may be made on the nutrition label, depending on the amount of fibre contained in a food product. The criteria to meet these claims are outlined in the Food and Drug Regulations. A fifth claim, "promotes laxation"/"promotes regularity" is no longer permitted under the new regulations.

Carbohydrates and Diet-Related Health Claims

Labelling regulations permit five Diet-Related Health Claims. These are optional statements that manufacturers can use to describe the relationship between a food or constituent of food and reduced risk of developing a diet-related disease or condition. These claims are based on sound scientific evidence and permit statements that relate to reducing the risk of heart disease, hypertension, osteoporosis, some types of cancer, and tooth decay.

One of the five claims describes the relationship between fermentable carbohydrates (e.g. sugars, starch, dextrins) in gum, hard candy or breath-freshening products, and the reduction of risk of dental caries. To make this claim, these products must either contain <0.25% fermentable carbohydrate, or if >0.25%, must not lower plaque pH below 5.7 by bacterial fermentation within 30 minutes after consumption. If the product meets these criteria, the label may state any one of the following claims: "Won't cause cavities", "Does not promote tooth decay", "Does not promote dental caries", or "non-cariogenic."

For more information on diet-related health claims, visit Health Canada.

"Natural" Labelling

The term "natural" is often used to describe certain foods and ingredients in food labelling. Sugar (sucrose) may be described as "natural" because it exists in nature, the refining process does not alter the physical, chemical or biological make-up of sucrose, and it is free of artificial and synthetic ingredients.

A food containing sugar and other ingredients can also be described as "natural", provided that all ingredients meet the conditions outlined in the Food and Drugs Regulations and 2003 Guide to Food Labelling and Advertising to be considered "natural".

Sweetener Labelling

Sweeteners are defined as "food additives" by the Food and Drug Regulations and refer to both high intensity-sweeteners and sugar alcohols (polyols).

High intensity-sweeteners include aspartame, neotame, sucralose, acesulfame-potassium, saccharin, and cyclamate. Aspartame, neotame, sucralose, and acesulfame-potassium must be listed on the nutrition label. Any food containing one or more of these sweeteners must contain a statement on the principal display panel which states that the food: "contains (name of the sweetener)" and/or is "sweetened with (name of sweetener)."

Saccharin and cyclamate sweeteners are not permitted in foods, and may only be sold for direct consumer use under conditions outlined in the Food and Drug Regulations. Furthermore, the labels of each of these products must contain cautionary statements regarding their use (e.g. used only on the advice of a physician), along with a list of ingredients, declaration of energy value, and the quantity of specific constituents that are found in the sweetener.

Sugar Alcohols

Sugar alcohols are also used to sweeten foods. Examples include isomalt, lactitol, maltitol, maltitol syrup, mannitol, sorbitol, sorbitol syrup, xylitol, and erythritol. If a product contains sugar alcohols, it must be listed as an ingredient in the ingredient list, and its content must be declared in the Nutrition Facts Table as "sugar alcohols". Sugar alcohols contribute to both the total carbohydrate and energy in a food product. They are expressed in grams per stated serving size. According to the 2003 Guide to Food Labelling and Advertising, the energy values for sugar alcohols are as follows:

Energy Source Energy Values (Cal/g)
Isomalt 2
Lactitol 2
Maltitol 3
Mannitol 1.6
Sorbitol 2.6
Xylitol 3
Erythritol 0.2

For more information on Sweetener labelling, refer to Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

References