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Sugar and your health

Posted: September 2014

Get the facts on our sugar recommendations, plus tips for eating less sugar

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Cooking at home more often will help you reduce sugar in your meals.

What is sugar?
is a carbohydrate that provides energy to the body; it has no other nutritional benefits. Sugar can occur naturally in foods such as milk, fruit, vegetables, and other plant-based foods such as legumes and nuts. These foods are also loaded with lots of positive nutrients such as vitamins and fibre, and they help us feel full and satisfied.

Added sugars are those added to foods and drinks and include glucose, fructose, sucrose, brown sugar, honey, corn syrup, maple syrup, molasses, fruit puree and juice etc. These sugars provide extra calories but few or no nutritional benefits. Fruit juice, either as a beverage, or as a sweetener added to other foods has less nutritional value than a piece of fruit and is high in sugar. Added sugars do not include the sugars that are found naturally in foods such as vegetables, fruit, milk, grains and other plant-based foods (e.g., legumes and nuts).

How much added sugar do Canadians currently consume?
The short answer is too much. On average more than 13 per cent of our total calories come from added sugars and this is a conservative estimate. Sugar- loaded beverages are the single greatest contributor of sugar in our diets. These include soft drinks, sports drinks, juices, energy drinks and hot and cold specialty teas and coffees. One can of pop contains 40 grams, or 10 teaspoons of sugar.

How does sugar affect our health?
Consuming too much sugar is associated with heart disease, stroke, obesity, diabetes, high blood cholesterol, cancer and cavities.

What does the Heart and Stroke Foundation recommend?
Canadians are consuming too much added sugar, especially in foods that have little or no nutritional value such as sugar-loaded beverages. The positive benefits of consuming vegetables and fruit are clear.

The Heart and Stroke Foundation recommends that Canadians decrease their consumption of added sugar to no more than 10 per cent of their total daily calories.This does not include sugar that occurs naturally in fruit, vegetables, milk, grains and other foods.

For an average 2,000-calorie-a-day diet, 10 per cent is about 48 grams, or 12 teaspoons of sugar. One can of pop contains about 85 per cent of the daily added sugar limit.

We have developed recommendations for Canadians, all levels of government, workplaces, schools, researchers, health organizations and industry to help reduce sugar consumption across the population. Find them at

Sugar reduction tips for Canadians

Thirsty? Drink water or lower fat (2% MF or less) plain milk. Flavour your water with lemon, orange or lime slices, strawberries or fresh mint. Milk has naturally occurring sugar in the form of lactose and provides lots of nutrients, such as calcium and Vitamin D. Soft drinks and fruit drinks are high in sugar, with no nutritional value. Fruit juice is high in sugar with less nutritional value and more sugar than whole fruit.

Time for a coffee or tea break? Be selective and stay away from the fancy drinks with added sugars. Instead of ordering a chai latte, order chai tea and ask them to add steamed milk. Order a latte instead of a mocha coffee. Add the nutmeg and cinnamon toppings provided for extra flavour.

Hungry for a meal? Try whole foods. Whole foods are foods that are as close to their natural state as possible. Examples are: fresh or frozen vegetables and fruit; lean meats, poultry and fish; meat alternatives such as beans, lentils or tofu; whole grains such as brown rice, whole wheat couscous, barley, freekeh and whole grain breads; dairy products such as plain lower fat milk, plain yogurt and cheeses. There are so many delicious options.

Need a snack? Stock up on healthy snacks such as roasted nuts; lower-fat cheese and crackers; veggies and dip; plain yogurt and fresh fruit. Try to avoid baked goods, sweet desserts, candies and chocolates that are all high in added sugar.

Buying breakfast cereal? Choose cereals with less than 6 grams of sugar and more than 4 grams of fibre per 1 cup (30 gram) serving. Look high and low on the supermarket shelves. Many of the healthier cereals will be either on the top or bottom shelves. The sugar sweetened cereals are placed at eye level to make them easy for kids to find.

Cook at home more often. For great ideas on healthy home cooking, visit for a wide variety of delicious recipes. Select recipes that are lower in sugar. And, experiment with your favourite recipes by reducing the amount of sugar by one-quarter to one-third. Try vanilla, cinnamon or almond extract to add flavour to your baking without added sugar.

Save restaurants for special occasions. When eating out, choose your restaurant wisely. Look for menus with freshly made unprocessed foods and nutrition information to help you make a healthy choice. Consider sharing a meal or ordering the appetizer size to help limit the portion size.

When you buy packaged foods read the Nutrition Facts table and the ingredient list. Pay special attention to the total amount of sugar and read the ingredient list. The Nutrition Facts table will tell you the total amount of sugar in the product (from both naturally occurring and added sugars) and the ingredient list will let you know where the sugar is coming from. Naturally occurring sugars are found in fruit, vegetables, plain dairy products, starches, grains and plant based foods. These foods provide us with valuable nutrients.

Added sugars such as glucose, fructose, sucrose, honey, evaporated cane juice; fruit puree, molasses, corn syrup, dextrose, concentrated fruit juice, etc. provide calories without nutritional benefits.

Understand what claims for sugar mean on packaged foods.

  • No added sugar – The product contains no added sugar such as glucose, fructose, honey or molasses. However it may contain naturally occurring sugars such as those from fruit or dairy products.
  • Reduced or lower in sugar – The food contains at least 25% and 5g less sugar than the food to which it is compared.
  • Unsweetened – The food contains no added sugars or sweeteners such as aspartame or sucralose.
  • Sugar-free or sugarless – Each standard serving contains less than 0.5g of sugar and less than 5 calories.


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