Media Releases

Research Reveals How Much Sugar is in Prepackaged Foods in Canada

September 26, 2016

Toron­to, ON – Researchers at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to have inves­ti­gat­ed the amount of free sug­ar in Cana­di­an prepack­aged foods and bev­er­ages. The results sug­gest that new guide­lines and bet­ter food label­ing is need­ed to help con­sumers make bet­ter choic­es.

Free sug­ar, com­mon­ly referred to as added sug­ar, is con­sid­ered a “hid­den” source of calo­ries, as it’s not always appar­ent to con­sumers they are present. Also, the exces­sive con­sump­tion of free sug­ar has been asso­ci­at­ed with an increased risk of obe­si­ty, car­dio­vas­cu­lar dis­ease, dia­betes, and tooth decay. The same ill-health effects are not asso­ci­at­ed with nat­u­ral­ly occur­ring sug­ars, such as those found in fruits and veg­eta­bles, because they are still in their nat­ur­al or intact form along with many vit­a­mins, min­er­als, and often fibre.

The research team, which was led by Pro­fes­sor Mary L’Abbé, used a vast data­base of food label­ing infor­ma­tion – the Uni­ver­si­ty of Toronto’s Food Label Infor­ma­tion Pro­gram – to iden­ti­fy the grams of sug­ar present in more than 15,000 prod­ucts. The prod­ucts were cat­e­go­rized into 17 sug­ar-focused major food groups, includ­ing 77 major sub­cat­e­gories and 207 minor cat­e­gories. The researchers then applied an algo­rithm, that pri­mar­i­ly uses the total sug­ar con­tent and ingre­di­ent list, to deter­mine what per­cent­age of the total sug­ar came from free sug­ar.

The results show that eight of the 17 food groups have more than 75% of the total sug­ar com­ing from free sug­ar. Those with the high­est pro­por­tion, as might be expect­ed, were desserts (94%), sug­ars and sweets (91%) and bak­ery prod­ucts (83%). Free sug­ar con­tributed 20% of calo­ries over­all in prepack­aged foods and bev­er­ages.

The find­ings were report­ed in the jour­nal Nutri­ents on Sep­tem­ber 21, 2016.

“With­out infor­ma­tion on the free sug­ar con­tent of foods, it’s hard for con­sumers to know how much free sug­ar is too much,” said Jodi Bern­stein, who was first author of the paper.

Bern­stein and L’Abbé are hop­ing this paper will help demon­strate to pol­i­cy­mak­ers the need for clear food labels that will help con­sumers mon­i­tor their con­sump­tion com­pared to the dai­ly amount of free sug­ar that is rec­om­mend­ed.

“Peo­ple are right­ful­ly con­cerned about how much sug­ar they are con­sum­ing,” said L’Abbé. “If they are going to be con­cerned about sug­ar, we want to make sure their con­cern is focused is on the right kind of sug­ar: free sug­ar.”

She points out that Health Cana­da is cur­rent­ly review­ing food label­ing pol­i­cy in Cana­da, which occurs every 10 to 15 years. While a sim­i­lar review in the Unit­ed States led the Food and Drug Admin­is­tra­tion to require added sug­ar to be report­ed on labels start­ing in July 2018, that hasn’t yet hap­pened in Cana­da.

“While Cana­da and the Unit­ed States gen­er­al­ly have very sim­i­lar food label­ing require­ments, it’s unfor­tu­nate that we haven’t tak­en a sim­i­lar step in this instance,” said L’Abbé.


For more Infor­ma­tion:

Liam Mitchell
Asso­ciate Direc­tor, Office of Com­mu­ni­ca­tions
Temer­ty Temer­ty Fac­ul­ty of Med­i­cine, Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to
416–978-4672 (office)
647–522-2513 (mobile)