Consumption of Sugars in Canada

There  is a concern about how much sugars Canadians consume. It is important to look to Canadian sources of data on what we are currently consuming. 

  • Estimated Intakes of Total, Free, and Added Sugars from Nutrition Survey Data. Canadian Community Health Survey (CCHS) 2015 dietary intake survey data indicate that Canadian adults consumed on avereage, 18.8% energy from total sugars, 9.9% energy from free sugars, and 8.6% energy from added sugars.  
  • Trends in Canadian Added Sugars Availability in the Marketplace. Statistics Canada availability data indicates that the amount of added sugars available in the marketplace has been declining over the past 20 years. 
  • Comparison of Canadian Sugars Consumption to US Data. The amount of available added sugars in Canada is about one-third less than the US.

Estimated Intakes of Total, Added, and Free Sugars from Nutrition Survey Data

The best estimate of actual food consumption comes from Canadian Community Health Survey (CCHS) data, which is an objective observation of food consumption based on the collection of self-report nutrition surveys in the form of 24-hour dietary recalls. 

The most recent CCHS-Nutrition survey was conducted in 2015, and data from 11,787 Canadian adults who were representative of the entire adult population, showed that the average intake of total sugars was 86.9 g/day (18.8% energy), 47.5 g/day (9.9% energy) for free sugars, and 41.7 g/day (8.6% energy) for added sugars (1). 

Comparisons Between CCHS 2015 and CCHS 2004

In the previous CCHS conducted in 2004, total sugars intake represented a daily average of 20.0% energy for adults, where 11.4% energy came from free sugars and 9.9% energy from added sugars (2). However, it should be noted that differences in population demographics (e.g. older age), survey methods, and under-reporting status between CCHS 2004 and CCHS 2015 may have influenced these observations (3). 

Nutrient Intakes Across Different Levels of Total Sugars Intakes

The data was further analyzed across five evenly distributed quintiles (Q1-Q5) based on the intakes of total sugars as a percentage of energy. Canadian adults with a moderate intake of total sugars (18.3% energy, Q3) had greater intakes of dietary fibre and key micronutrients such as calcium, vitamin D, and potassium, compared to those with high intakes (33.3% energy, Q5) and low intakes (7.9% energy, Q1) of total sugars (See graphs below).

Carbohydrates by quintiles of total sugars intake (%25E)

Calcium and Vitamin D intakes by Quintile of Sugars Intake as a %25 energy

Potassium and Sodium intakes by quintiles of sugars intake as a %25 energy

There was an inverse relationship between total sugars and total fat intakes as a % energy across quintiles, which mirrors the "sugar-fat seesaw" phenomenon. This reciprocal relationship was also observed for saturated fat as a % energy. 

Total fat and saturated fat by quintiles of total sugars intake as a %25 energy

Major Food Categories Across Different Levels of Total Sugars Intakes

Canadian adults with moderate intakes of total sugars (Q3) consumed moderate amounts of many sugars-containing foods and beverages such as fruit drinks, regular soft drinks, and sugars and confectionary, compared to the much higher amounts in Q5. Fruit and fruit juice intakes in Q3 were higher than Q1 but lower than Q5. No difference was observed between quintiles in important sources of carbohydrates such as wholemeal breads, white breads, and whole-grain and high-fibre breakfast cereals (See graphs below). 

Consumption of fruit, yogurt, milk, fruit juice, fruit drinks, and soft-drinks by quinitle of total sugars intake

Consumption of white and wholemeal breads, whole grain and high-fibre breakfast cereals, vegetables and potatoes by quintile of total sugars intake

Consumption of confectionary, sugars, cookies, biscuits and granola bars, frozen dairy, cakes, pies, pastries, and pasta, rice, cereal grains and flour by quintile of total sugars intake

Intake of Sugars in Children and Adolescents from CCHS 2015

Ongoing analyses are assessing the intakes of sugars in relation to macro- and micronutrient intakes among Canadian children and adolescents, as well as diet quality across different levels of sugars intakes using the same CCHS 2015 database. 


Trends in Canadian Added Sugars Availability in the Marketplace

Statistics Canada food availability data is reported annually. Availability data for sugars represents the amount of added sugars available in the marketplace and can be used as a proxy to estimate trends in per capita consumption of added sugars in Canada (2).

While many headlines suggest that Canadian intakes of added sugars are increasing, data from Statistics Canada indicates that the estimated per capita added sugars consumption in Canada was 10.3% energy in 2019. This reflects a continuing long-term declining trend, with a 14% per capita reduction based on % energy over the past 20 years. This means the amount of added sugars available for purchase has been declining, and supports the similar declining trend in added sugars consumption in Canada seen in dietary intake surveys.

Estimated per capita consumption of added sugars in Canada - declining trend 1999-2019

Data source: Statistics Canada, CANSIM. Adjusted for waste using updated USDA Loss-Adjusted Food Availability  (http://www.ers.usda.gov/data-products/food-availability-(per-capita)-data-system/.aspx#26705) . Includes refined sugar, maple sugar, honey and sugars in soft drinks. Note: Variability in sugars and syrups reflects substitution with high fructose corn syrup in soft drinks so total sugars, syrups and soft drinks is an overestimate in some years. Sugars in soft drinks is an overestimate as soft drink data includes non-caloric soft drinks.

These data include adjustments made to account for waste and food loss. This happens at all stages of the food distribution chain, and includes unintended spills, spoilage, or discarding of foods at the retail and consumer level. A 2015 Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada report indicated that there is an average food waste of ~31% across all food categories (3). Levels of waste for added sugars and syrups are higher than this average at ~41%. 


Comparison of Canadian Sugars Consumption to US Nutrition Survey Data

Data source: Canada: Statistics Canada, CANSIM. Adjusted for waste using updated USDA Loss-Adjusted Food Availability. United States: USDA, Caloric sweeteners: Per capita availability adjusted for loss.

Media articles often quote American sugars consumption statistics. However, our eating patterns are often different than our neighbours’, and this includes sugars intakes. Comparisons from 2015 consumption surveys indicate that Canadians adults eat and drink fewer sugars from foods and beverages than Americans, approximately one third less (4, 9). Much of this difference can be explained by the fact that Canadian consumption of soft drinks was about half that of the US (6, 7). 

Comparison of Canadian and US Consumption among adults^ per person per day

Canada US
 

(CCHS 2015)

(NHANES 2015-16)

Total Calories

1,890 Calories 2,105 Calories

Total sugars (grams) - natural and added

89 g 106 g
Total sugars (% energy) - natural and added  18.8% 20.1%

Added sugars (grams)

42 g 67 g

Added sugars (Calories)

168 Calories 267 Calories

Added sugars (% Calories)

8.9% 12.7%
^CCHS 2015: 19 years and older; NHANES 2015-16: 20 years and older

 

For more information, additional resources include:
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References
  1. Wang YF, Chiavaroli L, Roke K, DiAngelo C, Marsden S, Sievenpiper J. Canadian Adults with Moderate Intakes of Total Sugars have Greater Intakes of Fibre and Key Micronutrients: Results from the Canadian Community Health Survey - Nutrition 2015 Public Use Microdata File. Nutrients. 2020 Apr 17;12(4):E1124.
  2. Brisbois TD, et al. Estimated intakes and sources of total and added sugars in the Canadian diet. Nutrients 2014;6(5):1899-1912. 
  3. An Overview of the Canadian Agrictulture and Agri-Food System 2015. 
  4. Garriguet D. Accounting for misreporting when comparing energy intake across time in Canada. Health Rep. 2018;29:3-12. 
  5. Langlois K, Garriguet D. Change in total sugars consumption among Canadian children and adults. Statistics Canada Health Reports. January 2019.
  6. US Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service, Beltsville Human Nutrition Research Center, Food Surveys Research Group, Beltsville, Maryland; WWEIA Data Tables. Available at: https://www.ars.usda.gov/northeast-area/beltsville-md-bhnrc/beltsville-human-nutrition-research-center/food-surveys-research-group/docs/wweia-data-tables/
  7. Statistics Canada CANSIM Table 002-0011. Food Available in Canada. 
  8. Bowman SA, Clemens JC, Friday JE, LaComb RP, Paudel D, Shimizu M. Added Sugars in Adults' Diet: What We Eat in America, NHANES 2015-2016.
  9. Welsh JA, Sharma AJ, Grellinger L, Vos MB. Consumption of added sugars is decreasing in the United States. Am J Clin Nutr. 2011;94:726-734.