It’s said a spoonful of sugar helps medicine go down, but too many result in obesity and increased risk of heart disease, diabetes and even death. Some health authorities go so far as to describe sugar as the new tobacco.
So there’s good reason for Ottawa to take steps designed to heighten Canadians’ awareness of just how much of the sweet stuff we regularly consume. The short answer is we eat excessive amounts.
Health Minister Rona Ambrose has announced proposed changes to nutrition labeling on packaged foods that will make it easier for people to see exactly how much sugar a product contains, along with its caloric value, salt, fat and other ingredients. Better-informed consumers will, presumably, be in a better position to change their unhealthy ways.
Each label would inform prospective buyers of the total sugar in a particular product and also note the amount of added sugar. For example, a bottle of orange juice might contain natural sugar, from the fruit, but also big dollop of extra sugar mixed in by the manufacturer.
The amount of sweetener routinely hidden in processed foods may well surprise a great many consumers.
For example, according to the World Health Organization, which is also ringing alarm bells on sugar consumption, a tablespoon of ketchup contains about one teaspoon of sugar, or about 4 grams. And a single can of regular soda holds up to 10 teaspoons, or 40 grams.
To put these amounts in context, WHO currently recommends that added sugars comprise less than 10 per cent of a person’s energy intake each day — and even that’s a lot. In light of recent medical data, WHO is proposing a change recognizing the benefits of limiting sugar to under 5 per cent of total energy intake. For the average person, that’s the equivalent of a mere six teaspoons, or 25 grams, of sugar daily. In other words, drink half a can of pop and you’re done.
New guidelines proposed by Ambrose would set Health Canada’s daily recommended limit for sugar consumption at 100 grams. Many experts consider that too high, but a great many people would be hard-pressed to reach even this modest target.
It’s estimated that Canadians, on average, consume about 26 teaspoons of sugar a day, or about 110 grams. But some individuals eat far more. The changes proposed by Ottawa represent a healthy start in weaning Canadians off their unwholesome sugar habit. We’ve got to learn to push away the soda pop and ice cream.
Another welcome move from Ambrose is a more sensible approach to serving sizes, currently a source of confusion. Under existing rules, for example, a label can list one slice of bread or two as a single serving. But people typically consume two slices at a time, in the form of a sandwich. The proposed new guidelines would use “reference amounts” for a variety of foods better reflecting how Canadians actually eat — in this case, a single serving of bread would be two slices.
Consultations on these changes are running until Sept. 11, with Health Canada to produce a final list of food label modifications sometime after that. But what’s been recommended so far seems well on the mark, especially efforts aimed at curbing our collective taste for a sugar rush.