Reading food labels can be confusing. Currently, information about sugars can be found in three areas on food and beverage labels:
- The Nutrition Facts table. This lists the amount of total carbohydrate, including total sugars in a stated serving size.
- The List of Ingredients. The ingredients list identifies all types of sugars and sweetening ingredients in the food or beverage in descending order of quantity.
- Sugars-related Nutrient Content Claims. There are five nutrient content claims related to sugars permitted in Canada.
As part of a broader Healthy Eating Strategy, Health Canada released changes to food labelling regulations in December 2016 (1). These changes will provide additional information on sugars to help Canadians compare sugars content of products more easily and make informed choices for healthy eating:
- A % Daily Value for total sugars in the Nutrition Facts table, and
- Grouping all added sugars ingredients together in the List of Ingredients.
With a five-year implementation period, all packaged food and beverage products will display the new labels by December 2021, but companies may begin introducing the new labels on their products before then. Current and upcoming changes to sugars information are compared below.
Carbohydrates and Sugars in the Nutrition Facts table
The Nutrition Facts Table lists the amount of total carbohydrate, including total sugars, starches, and fibre in a stated serving size (2, 3).
- “Sugars” refers to total sugars, and includes all monosaccharides (e.g. glucose, fructose) and disaccharides (e.g. sucrose, lactose) naturally present in fruits, vegetables, and dairy sources, plus sugars added to foods and beverages (e.g. table sugar, honey or syrups).
- Whether a mono- or disaccharide is naturally-occurring or added to foods, the chemical composition is identical and is broken down the same way. For example, sugar (sucrose) from sugar cane or sugar beet has the same chemical make-up as the sucrose found in all fruits and vegetables and is used as a source of energy by the body in the same way.
Among the changes to the Nutrition Facts table,
- The % Daily Value (DV) for Carbohydrate has been removed;
- A DV for Sugars has been introduced at 100 g, which is close to the average level of consumption of total sugars in Canada, but is not a recommended level of intake;
- The DV for fibre increased from 25 to 28 g (1).
These values are based on a 2000-calorie reference diet and can be used to compare food products and make informed food choices.
Sugars in the Ingredient List
All pre-packaged foods require a List of Ingredients (2, 3). Ingredients are listed in descending order by weight, therefore the ingredient that weighs the most is listed first and the lowest weight ingredient listed last.
To make it easier for consumers to identify all the sources of sugars added to a food or beverage, the new labelling regulations require that all added sugars ingredients be grouped together in brackets following the term “Sugars” (1). Functional substitutes that act as sweetening agents such as fruit juice concentrate and maltodextrin are also grouped under "Sugars". The placement of Sugars within the ingredient list will depend on the total weight of all the sugars ingredients combined.
DID YOU KNOW?
Unlike in the Nutrition Facts table, the term “Sugars” includes only sugars-based ingredients, (all added sugars and functional substitutes such as fruit juice concentrate and maltodextrin), but not sugars naturally occurring in fruits, vegetables, and dairy sources.
Some of the common types of sugars you may find in the ingredient listing include:
*Sugars ingredients do not include high-intensity sweeteners, sugar alcohols, or dextrins.
Sugars-Related Nutrient Content Claims
Nutrient content claims are statements that highlight or describe the amount of a nutrient in a food (2, 3). There are five nutrient content claims related to sugars permitted in Canada:
|Sugars – Related Claims||Regulations|
|"sugar-free", "free of sugar" "no sugar", "0 sugar", "zero sugar", "without sugar", "contains no sugar", "sugarless"||Contains < 0.5 g sugars per reference amount and meets the conditions for the claim "free of energy" (< 5 cal per reference amount).|
|"reduced in sugar", "reduced sugar", "sugar-reduced", "less sugar", "lower sugar", "lower in sugar"||The food is processed, reformulated, or modified so that compared to a similar reference food**, it contains at least 25% less sugars, totaling at least 5 g less sugars/reference amount.|
|"lower in sugar", "less sugar", "lower sugar"||Compared to a reference food of the same food group, contains at least 25% less sugars, totaling at least 5 g less sugars/reference amount.|
|"no added sugar", "no sugar added", "without added sugar"||Contains no added sugars, no ingredients containing added sugars or ingredients that contain sugars that substitute for added sugars. The similar reference food contains added sugars.|
|"unsweetened"||Meets requirements for "no added sugar" and contains no sweeteners (i.e. food additives such as aspartame, sucralose, sorbitol, etc).|
*Note: Only the terms and wording outlined above from the Food and Drug Regulations can be used to make a claim.
** “Similar reference food” means a food of the same type as the food to which is it compared and that has not been processed, formulated, reformulated, or otherwise modified in a manner that increases or decreases either the energy value, or the amount of a nutrient that is the subject of the comparison.
For more detailed information on the nutrition information labelling requirements, visit Health Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency Food Labelling for Consumers.
For more information on sugars labelling, additional resources include:
- Infographic - Learning about Sugars Labelling: New Nutrition Information
- Video “Is Sugar Hidden in Foods?” featuring dietitian Christy Brissette