September 01, 2013

Nutrition claims on foods are meant to help consumers make informed dietary choices. However, for sugar claims to be meaningful, comparative reductions in calories are required. 

Objectives: 1) to assess health professionals' understanding of sugar claims ("reduced in sugar", "no sugar added", "unsweetened"); 2) to compare calories, carbohydrates, and sugars content between claim and reference products in the marketplace; and 3) to determine the level of compliance with Canadian regulations. 

Methods: In 2012, four Toronto grocery stores were surveyed to identify products with sugar claims. Health professionals completed questionnaires at two National conferences to assess their understandng of sugar claims. 

Results: Questionnaire respondents (n=442) were primarily dietitians. The majority of respondents expected calories to be reduced for products bearing the "reduced in sugar" claim. In the marketplace, of the 402 products that bore a sugar claim, one-third were not reduced in calories by > 25% as expected by health professionals; 15% of products were higher in calories; 18% higher in carbohydrates, and 6% higher in sugars compared to reference products. One-third of products did not meet the % sugar reduciton claimed. Less than 40% of products complied with regulations; concentrated fruit juice was often incorrectly used as a sweetener in "no sugar added" products.

Conclusions: Sugar claims may be misleading if 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 concern for people with diabetes. 

This abstract has been published in Applied Physiology, Nutrition and Metabolism, 2013, 28(4):433-476; Canadian Journal of Dietetic Practice and Research, 2013, 74(3)e318-e334; and Canadian Journal of Diabetes, 2013, 37(S4):S71.

This research has been presented at the Canadian Nutrition Society Annual Meeting (Quebec City, QC, May 30 - June 2), the Dietitians of Canada National Conference (Victoria, BC, June 14, 2013), and the Vascular 2013 conference (Montreal, QC, October 17, 2013).