Does Added Sugar have Added Importance on Food Labels?

It’s the year 2021 and it’s high time that the food labeling laws (nutrition panel) proposed in 2016 with ideas that have been hotly debated for decades are finally set in stone.

It’s great… Except that, they’re missing key information. Remember when we thought there would be teleportation and flying cars in 2015? It hasn’t happened yet… and we can’t seem to agree on whether or not useful information (like added sugar) deserve to be on food labels.

  1. When will Canadians be able to compare two food items and the amount of sugar added to them to make informed choices about the food they choose to eat?
  2. Is withholding added sugars on food labels consumer deception or an issue of power and influence from food industry?

In Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s mandate letter to the Health Minister, Jane Philpott he mentions the labeling of added sugar. The Canadian Sugar Institute lobbied against this using similar tactics that the tobacco industry was known for. The Canadian Sugar Institute is guided by a Scientific Advisory Council. Some of the members of the Scientific Advisory Council attain funding from food companies that profit from the sale of sugar added foods and beverages such as Danone yogurt and Dairy Farmers of Canada.

Sugar Industry Involvement

I doubt Danone supports the labeling of added sugar on their products.

Free sugars don’t have the same nutritive value that naturally occurring sugars have; eating unsweetened single-ingredient applesauce with 25 grams of sugar is not the same as drinking a serving of pop with 25 grams of sugar or plain yogurt with 15 grams of added sugar and 10 grams of naturally occurring sugar. The apple sauce has fiber in it and is just mashed up apples. The pop is basically sugar water and the plain yogurt, well that’s the most confusing. Many people aren’t aware of the amount of added sugar in yogurt because the current the Nutrition Facts table includes total sugar, not naturally-occurring sugar. Plain yogurt can have added sugar in it.

What are free sugars?

Free sugar is inclusive of added sugar but also includes sugars added to a product that are ‘free from’ fiber. Free sugar is the sugar found in honey and fruit juices etc. If added or free sugars are not listed on food labels it is almost impossible for Canadians to ascertain how much sugar is added to their food. The ability to compare added or free sugar in food products will allow consumers to make educated food choices for their health.

Clearly defining the amount of added OR free sugars in food products will allow Canadians to understand that not only sweets contain sugar, but everyday items such as tomato sauce, savory foods, soups, and sauces also contain added sugar. Want to get involved? Sign the petition here.

It matters whether or not Canadians can easily read a food label and decide whether they would like to eat that food based on the facts.

I don’t believe that percentage daily value of total sugars on food labels will provide Canadians with enough information to make educated choices regarding the amounts of added (and free) sugars in their food based on WHO guidelines.

Where is sugar hidden?

Beans in tomato sauce- The third ingredient is sugar. There are 16 grams of sugar per cup of beans, knowing how much of that sugar is added (and naturally occurring) would be helpful.

Orange “Juice” There is added sugar but it is hidden, it’s corn maltodextrin. So, this “orange juice” is water with added sugar and some juice mixed together. There are 10 grams of sugar per cup of “juice”. 

Ketchup There is added sugar in ketchup and tomato sauces as well. Again, it is usually hidden, with words like corn syrup and high fructose corn syrup.

What does sugar have to do with Canadian healthcare?

The primary objective of Canadian health care policy within the Canada Health Act is to protect, promote and restore the physical and mental well-being of residents of Canada and to facilitate reasonable access to health services without financial or other barriers. Once elected, Prime Minister J. Trudeau enlisted the help of Minister J. Philpott to promote public health by:  increasing vaccination rates; introducing new restrictions on the commercial marketing of unhealthy food and beverages to children, similar to those now in place in Quebec; bringing in tougher regulations to eliminate trans fats and to reduce salt in processed foods, similar to those in the United States; and improving food labels to give more information on added sugars and artificial dyes in processed foods.

How is it that in the year 2017 with the amount of knowledge and research we have can a mandate from the Prime Minister of Canada AND the primary objective of the Canadian Health Act is stated to promote the physical well-being of residents of Canada yet we are not able to label food additives (sugar) like many other countries already do (or have mandated for the future).


Why is it that we are we listening to a food lobby instead of unbiased research? Canadians deserve to know what is in their food and they deserve the right to understand how much sugar has been added to their food because it can negatively impact their health. Food labels are confusing enough already, adding a %DV for sugar will not decrease the current consumer confusion. 

We need the Government to empower Canadians to make healthy choices by providing them with better information about their food

Can we consume added sugar and still be healthy? Absolutely.

BUT- I do believe that knowing the amount of added sugars in food products is crucial for consumers to make educated decisions on when they’d like to consume added sugar and whether they’d like to avoid it. Sugar is not poison and yes, sugar does occur naturally, HOWEVER, sugar added to foods during processing increases the caloric content of food and it is important for all individuals to be able to assess this prior to consumption. Foods that contain added sugars are generally highly processed and provide minimal nutrition when compared to similar products that don’t have added sugar.

It seems that the food industry is attempting to protect profits by lobbying against added sugar on food labels and they certainly aren’t lobbying for public health.  

To critically analyze those who are against labeling added sugar is just too simple, it’s in direct contrast with the goals of food labels (to educate consumers on the item). The majority of the opposition are organizations who profit from the sale of sugar, sugar-sweetened beverages, highly-processed foods and so on.

The human body recognizes all sugar as C12 H22 O11, the problem becomes a large issue when the general public cannot discern the difference between naturally occurring sugar in plain yogurt and the 4 teaspoons of added sugar in a serving of strawberry yogurt. Health Canada was directed (by lobbyists) to a U.S. study that suggested, “consumers have a limited understanding of the ‘added sugars’ declaration in the Nutrition Facts table.” This study was partly funded by the food industry. Bias is affecting our Government’s decision-making process that affects public health! The Canadian sugar industry is powerful, it produces more than 1.2 million tonnes of refined sugar annually with a value of shipments of over $1 billion dollars.

Added sugar on food labels would distinctly show that non-diet beverages are almost totally added sugar. We shouldn’t expect companies that profit from the sale of sugar water to promote health but we should expect our elected government to support appropriate labeling of it.

The longer the Government of Canada denies the right of knowledge to Canadians the longer Canadians will have to face the cost of healthcare associated with the excessive consumption of added sugar.

Would it be socially efficient to label added sugar?

Bottom Line

Canadians are already paying to have food labels updated. There is no harm in labeling added sugar (or free sugar). There are likely health benefits of labeling added sugar. The downfall to labeling added sugar would be for profitable companies, not for the health of Canadians.

Without added sugar, on food labels, it will be difficult for Canadians to follow WHO dietary guidelines and even more difficult for them to discern the difference between the sugar from eating an orange compared to a granola bar, a fruit drink, or pop.

Do you want your voice to be heard?
Sign the petition for added-sugar labeling in Canada here.


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