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What's the Scoop on Added Sugar?

Our next #30in30 #nutritionmonth blog post is from Gillian Burrell, BSc. Thank you for submitting!

As with everything in nutrition, limiting your sugar intake isn’t as simple as counting the grams. One important distinction to make is whether the sugar is supplementary or naturally-occurring. This might seem unimportant (isn’t one gram of sugar the same as any other gram?) but several scientific studies in 2014 linked diets high in added sugar to cardiovascular disease and diabetes. The connection begins to make sense when you consider what goes along with that sugar.
How Sugar Can Be ‘Empty’
In the nutrition world, added sugar is called “empty calories” because food manufacturers don’t usually add extra vitamins or minerals to accompany the extra sugar. So even if you eliminate something else to make room for a sugary treat, you’ll still be missing-out on an opportunity to get important nutrients! On top of that, sugary foods tend to have even less vitamins and minerals than other food items.

Supplementary sugar is also chemically different from natural sugars because it’s usually high in fructose. Fructose is a type of sugar that’s great for making candies crunchy and turning breads golden brown but it’s not great for your liver. Unlike glucose, which can be used by any cell in your body, fructose has to be processed by your liver before it can be used for energy and an overdose of fructose causes your liver to generate fat. Although fructose occurs naturally in fruits, it’s harder on your body when it’s an added sugar. This is because fruits contain fibre which slows down the absorption of sugar. Slow absorption means your liver isn’t forced to make fat and you can feel energetic for longer.
Unfortunately, avoiding added sugar isn’t as simple as checking the label. It’s rarely listed as “sugar” and instead has more than 50 aliases! Here are some of the common ones: fancy molasses, corn syrup, galactose, diastatic malt, barley malt, brown rice syrup, cane juice, dextran, and more!
Often, more than one type of sugar is listed so it’s hard to tell how much added sugar the food item contains in total. Sometimes sugar should actually be the first (biggest) ingredient on the label but it’s divided among its multiple aliases.
What is Health Canada Doing About It?
Recently, Health Canada proposed changes to food labelling regulations that could help consumers identify sources of added sugar. Under the new regulations, the number of grams of added sugar would be listed below the total sugar in the same way that fat is currently divided into trans fats and saturated fats. Additionally, the ingredients label will list all the sugars in the same place. Instead of listing multiple aliases, the label will simply say “sugar” with the exact ingredient listed in brackets.

Until these changes take effect, stay on your toes; added sugars can hide in the least expected places like ketchup, bologna, and peanut butter. Familiarize yourself with common names for added sugars and try to limit your consumption to 5% of your daily calories. 


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