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September 1, 2013 - Carbohydrate Nutrition News

Sugar claims on foods: health professionals' understanding compared to marketplace practice

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).