July 21, 2014

The Canadian Sugar Institute is supportive of the food labelling modernization initiative to improve consumer access to accurate labelling information, and Health Canada's objective to ensure the nutrition label is based on up-to-date scientific information and consumption habits. 

It is essential that nutrition information on food labels is science-based and in a format that is easy for consumers to read and understand. With respect to sugars, the Canadian Sugar Institute will be reviewing the proposed changes, including the labelling of sugars in the ingredient list and Nutrition Facts table (NFt), and will be responding to the technical consultation. A few preliminary views are described briefly below. 

  • The format for Carbohydrate/Total Sugars/Added Sugars in the NFt is complex and may not achieve the objectives of improved access to accurate information and consumer understanding. 
  • As Health Canada has noted, declaring "added sugars" in the NFt may "support the misbelief that added sugars per se are nutritionally different from naturally occurring sugars" and "would create enforcement challenges given that there is no analytical method to distinguish added sugars from total sugars"1. All sugars are carbohydrates and provide 4 Calories per gram (16 Calories per teaspoon). During digestion, carbohydrates including sugars and starches, are broken down into simple sugars (glucose, fructose, galactose). Whether naturally occurring or added to foods, these sugars are used the same way in the body. 
  • As recommended by consumers, the label should "feature a clear, specific list of ingredients and standardized ingredient terms". "Sugar" is pure sucrose, the sugar obtained from sugar cane and sugar beet, and is a standardized term under Canada's Food and Drug Regulations (sucrose of minimum 99.8% purity)2

The proposed changes to enhance information about sugars on food labels reflects current consumer interest in this information. Unfortunately, this approach may perpetuate the misbelief that sugars are uniquely contributing to overweight and obesity as compared to other macronutrients. Scientific evidence has been insufficient to establish quantitative limits for total or added sugars in relation to this public health problem. It is the excess of calories consumed, rather than the source of calories that is associated with weight gain3

The WHO recently proposed a draft guideline for free sugars of 10% of Calories based on evidence graded as 'moderate' in relation to dental caries (not obesity). Canadian average intakes of added sugars are estimated to be approximately 11% of Calories4, very close to this WHO draft guideline. 

 

References

1.http://hc-sc.gc.ca/fn-an/alt_formats/pdf/consult/2014-core-nutrients-principaux-nutriments/document-consultation-eng.pdf

2. Food and Drug Regulation. Division 18. B.18.001.

3. Langlois K, Garriguet D, Findlay L. Diet composition and obesity among Canadian adults. Statistics Canada Health Reports. 2009. No.82-003-X.

4. Brisbois TD, Marsden SL, Anderson GH, Sievenpiper JL. Estimated intakes and sources of total and added sugars in the Canadian diet. Nutrients. 2014 May 8;6(5):1899-912. doi: 10.3390/nu6051899.