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 National Dietary Survey Data. Canadian Community Health Survey (CCHS) 2015 dietary intake survey data indicates that Canadian adults consumed on average, 18.8% energy from total sugars, 9.9% energy from free sugars, and 8.6% energy from added sugars after adjusting for misreporting status.
  • Trends in Canadian Added Sugars Availability in the Marketplace. Statistics Canada annual loss-adjusted 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. Canadian adults consume nearly 1/3 less added sugars than US adults, mostly due to lower intakes of soft drinks. 

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

The most recent Canadian Community Health Survey (CCHS)—Nutrition survey, conducted in 2015, provides the best estimate of actual food consumption. It offers an objective estimation of nutrition status based on the collection of food intake data in the form of self-report 24-hour dietary recalls.

Data from 11,787 Canadian adults who were selected to represent the entire adult population [except for those living in the Territories, remote areas, on reserves, or institutions (e.g. prisons or care facilities)] showed that the average intake was 86.9 g/day (18.8 % of energy) for total sugars, 47.5 g/day (9.9 % energy) for free sugars, and 41.7 g/day (8.6 % energy) for added sugars, after adjusting for misreporting status. This adjustment accounts for potential under-reporting as one of the limitations of the 24-hour dietary recall method used to collect dietary intake information in CCHS 2015 (1). 

Total, Added, Free sugars intakes as percent of energy for adults

Comparisons Between CCHS 2015 and CCHS 2004

Total sugars intake decreased among Canadian adults from 2004 to 2015, as seen in the table below. 

Sugars Intake from 2004 to 2015 in Canadian Adults CCHS 20042 CCHS 20151
Total Sugars (% Daily Energy) 20.0% 18.8%
Free Sugars (% Daily Energy) 11.4% 9.9%
Added Sugars (% Daily Energy) 9.9% 8.6%

However, differences in population demographics (e.g. older age), survey methods, added/free sugars estimation methods, and under-reporting status between CCHS 2004 and CCHS 2015 may have influenced these observations (1-5). 

Nutrient Intakes and Food Categories Across Different Levels of Total Sugars Intakes

Analysis of the 2015 CCHS data, shows that Canadian adults with a moderate intake of total sugars had greater intakes of dietary fibre and key micronutrients such as calcium, vitamin D and potassium compared to those with high and low intakes of total sugars (1). 

Adults with moderate intakes of total and added sugars had higher intakes of fibre and several vitamins and minerals.

Analysis of the 2015 CCHS data, shows that Canadian adults with a moderate intake of total sugars had greater intakes of dietary fibre and key micronutrients such as calcium, vitamin D and potassium compared to those with high and low intakes of total sugars (1).

Fruits and Dairy Products

Interestingly, there was also an inverse relationship between total sugars and total fat and saturated fat intakes as a % energy (i.e., at lower intakes of sugars there were higher intakes of fat and vice versa). This mirrors the “sugar-fat seesaw” phenomenon observed in other countries such as the United States and Australia (6). 

Trends in Canadian Added Sugars Availability in the Marketplace

Statistics Canada food availability data is reported annually. Added sugars availability data represents the amount of added sugars available for consumer consumption in the marketplace. An adjustment factor has been applied to account for losses that occur in distribution, storage, preparation, and consumption (e.g., discarded or spoiled) of added sugars containing foods and beverages. Since national dietary surveys in Canada have been conducted much less frequently, the annual loss-adjusted added sugars availability data can be used to estimate trends in per capita (i.e. “average per person”) consumption of added sugars in Canada (2,7). 

While many headlines suggest that Canadian intakes of added sugars are increasing, data from Statistics Canada shows a continuing long-term decline trend, with a 15% per capita reduction (based on % energy) over the past 20 years. In 2020, the estimated loss-adjusted per person added sugars consumption in Canada was 11% energy (a decline from 13% energy in 2000). The largest contributor to the decline in added sugars is the continued decline in soft drinks availability, which is down by 53% compared with 2000. This is consistent with the observed reduction in added sugars consumption in 2015 compared to 2004 from the Canadian Community Health Surveys (1). 

Estimated per capita consumption of added sugars in Canada - declining trend 2000-2020

Data source: Data source: Statistics Canada, CANSIM. Adjusted for waste using updated USDA Loss-Adjusted Food Availability (https://www.ers.usda.gov/data-products/food-availability-per-capita-data-system/loss-adjusted-food-availability-documentation/). Includes refined sugar, maple sugar, honey and sugars in soft drinks. Variability in sugars and syrups reflects substituting sugar with high fructose corn syrup in soft drinks. Sugars in soft drinks is an overestimate as soft drink data includes non-caloric soft drinks.

Media articles in Canada often quote American sugars consumption statistics. However, our eating patterns are often different than our neighbours’, and this includes sugars intakes. US per capita availability shows a similar declining trend; however, Canadian intakes are on average about 30% lower than American intakes.

Trend in Canada and US Added Sugars Consumption 1999-2019

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.

Comparison of Canadian Sugars Consumption to US Data

Comparisons of dietary surveys during the same period of time between the two countries similarly indicate that Canadian adults generally consume nearly 1/3 less added sugars than US adults (1,8-11). 

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

Canada (CCHS 2015) US (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

 

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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. Louie JCY, et al. A systematic methodology to estimate added sugar content of foods. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2015; 69(2): 154-61
  5. Garriguet D. Accounting for misreporting when comparing energy intake across time in Canada. Health Rep. 2018;29:3-12. 
  6. Sadler et al. Sugar-fat seesaw: A systematic review of the evidence. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2015;55:338-356.
  7. Statistics Canada CANSIM Table 002-0011. Food Available in Canada. 
  8. US Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service, Beltsville Human Nutrition Research Center, Food Surveys Research Group, Beltsville, Maryland; WWEIA Data Tables. 
  9. Langlois K, Garriguet D. Change in total sugars consumption among Canadian children and adults. Statistics Canada Health Reports. January 2019.
  10. 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.
  11. 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.