The good news:
Consumption of sugar in the Canadian diet has been steadily decreasing over the past 20 years.
The bad news:
Most Canadians are still consuming way too much each day!
Not all sugars are bad, many are naturally occurring in products like milk, yogurt, fruits and vegetables. Naturally occurring sugars are nutritious and part of a healthy, well balanced diet. The concern is with regards to “free sugars”, these are sugars and syrups added to food during preparation. This includes all sorts of sugars including corn syrup, fruit concentrates, honey and nectars. They also appear on food labels as fructose or sucrose. The World Health Organization (WHO) suggests that a healthy diet contains no more than 10% of our total daily energy intake should be from added sugars, and ideally this should be closer to 5%. In Canada, most adults consume approximately 13% of our daily calories from added sugar!
What’s the big deal?
Consuming too much sugar is associated with heart disease, stroke, obesity, diabetes, high blood cholesterol, cancer and cavities. The link to diabetes and cavities may seem intuitive, but a large 2014 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found getting too much added sugar in your diet could significantly increase the risk of dying from cardiovascular disease.
There is good evidence to show that high sugar intake is associated with increased body weight. This is particularly concerning in children as a recent WHO report stated “Overweight and obese children are at higher risk of developing serious health problems including type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, asthma and other respiratory problems, sleep disorders and liver disease. They may also suffer from psychological effects, such as low self-esteem, depression and social isolation.” Sweetened beverages like soft drinks, fruit drinks, sport drinks and blended coffees are a particularly concerning part of the typical Canadian child’s diet. According to the Canadian Diabetes Association, it has been estimated that sugary drinks may be responsible for as much as one pound per month weight gain in adolescents.
Reducing sugar intake definitely takes some effort, but when considering the health consequences – isn’t it worth it?
Small changes – healthier family!
Getting daily sugar consumption down to 5% is extremely difficult. A more reasonable target is reducing intake to below 10%. This is the equivalent of 12 teaspoons of added sugar based on an average 2000 calorie–a-day diet. Sounds like a lot but just one can of pop contains 40grams, or 10 teaspoons of sugar!
Remember, some sugar is healthy, particularly for children who need to be consuming dairy products and an array of fruits and vegetables. The first and easiest step is to limit sugar sweetened beverages from the diet. Replace pop and fruit drinks with water and choose white milk and homemade smoothies over sweetened milk and yogurt drinks. Reserve candies, cookies, baked goods, sugary cereals and ice cream for special occasions. Become familiar with food labels – read the nutrition facts table on all packaged foods. Sugars will be listed under the carbohydrates section. Unfortunately, food labels do not have to specify whether the sugar is naturally occurring or added, but always choose products with the lowest sugar content – especially when comparing two different products. Lastly, be a role model for your kids and others around you. Eating healthy and reducing added sugars will make you and your family healthier overall.