Not too long ago, I participated in the Sweet Spot Challenge where I had the opportunity to create a sample menu plan using Health Canada’s new guidelines on sugar consumption.
Before now, there was never a % Daily Value (%DV) for sugar on the Nutrition Facts Table. Only the total amount of sugar(s) per serving was listed. For example, a granola bar might have 15 grams of sugar per bar.
However, Health Canada is now providing guidance on an amount total sugars (both added sugars and naturally occurring) that is consistent with a healthy eating pattern. Using the standard 2000 calorie reference energy level, the %DV for sugars is 100 g per day, or about 20% of total calories.
The 100 g Daily Value
You might be thinking, “what are THEY thinking? 100 g of sugar!!”, “Are they crazy?”.
And I get it, I do. Years ago, I remember being in the change room at my then gym and the person next to me was reading the Nutrition Facts on a protein bar. He actually said out loud “200 mg of sodium? Are they trying to kill me?”.
For reference, 200 mg is a drop in the bucket. Typically, Canadians are consuming about 3400 mg per day from all sources. The point is, a number like the %DV for sugar is difficult for people to conceive of. This goes for both health professionals like myself, not to mention the general public.
This is where the new food label will help.
New food labelling is on the way
Over the next three years several changes are coming to the Nutrition Facts Table and List of Ingredients on packaged foods.
Nutrition Facts Tables simply help you understand how much of a nutrient you’re going to get in the stated serving size. The %DV allows you to have a sense of what you’d get per serving compared to reference. That reference could be a minimum recommended intake of a nutrient such as vitamin C for example, or in the case of sugar, a reference amount consistent with healthy eating.
PRO TIP: The %DV is neither a recommended minimum nor maximum intake of a given nutrient.
The %DVs also allows you to compare products to choose one that meets your individual goal to get more of, or less of and given nutrient.
Check out the new label here to get a sense of the upcoming changes:
As with any change, there’s always a learning curve and the new %DV for sugar will impact both health professionals’ and consumers’ understanding of food labels.
Confusion and questions will follow.
It can be challenging to visualize what 100 grams of total sugars in a 2000 calorie ‘budget’ looks like which is why an event such as this was/is vital for health and nutrition educators and communicators. Preparing a range of foods, laid you before you and then portioned on your plate brings in a whole lot of perspective
The Sweet Spot Workshop
The Dietitians at the Canadian Sugar Institute partnered with Chef Claire Tansey, to give myself, and a handful of fellow dietitians, the opportunity to put theory into practice with The Sweet Spot Workshop. This hands-on cooking workshop provided us the chance to see just what 100 g of sugar looks like using real food.
Using everyday foods like vegetables, fruit, whole grains, Greek yogurt, nuts, seeds and protein-rich foods such as chicken and tofu – foods that many of us include on a regular basis – we not only saw how easily 100 grams of total sugar fits into a healthy eating pattern, but how many of us who prepare most of our own meals are likely already, at or around, that 100 gram reference intake, give or take.
The point is, it doesn’t require any special foods. Following general healthy eating guidelines, including eating a variety of foods, both cooked and raw, is the best way to keep your intake of sugars within a healthier range.
The 100 g Daily Value allows for a variety of healthy and nutritious foods and for those who love dessert or other treats, there’s room for that too.
100 g Daily Value in real food
The gang worked in pairs to prepare breakfast, lunch and dinner options and a dessert using recipes from Claire’s cookbook Uncomplicated.
Instant Bircher Museli: 17 g sugar
Other nutrients of interest: Calories: 308, Carbohydrate: 17 g, Fiber: 5 g, Fat: 12 g, Protein: 8 g and Sodium: 155 mg
Secretly Green Smoothie: 13 g sugar
Other nutrients of interest: Calories: 200, Carbohydrate: 30 g, Fiber: 5 g, Fat: 3 g, Protein: 15 g and Sodium: 53 mg
Chilled Cucumber and Sesame Noodles with Tofu: 3 g sugar
Other nutrients of interest: Calories: 494, Carbohydrate: 59 g, Fiber: 5 g, Fat: 16 g, Protein: 30 g and Sodium: 355 mg
Sweet and Sour Bok Choy: 4 g sugar
Other nutrients of interest: Calories: 32, Carbohydrate: 7 g, Fiber: 1 g, Fat: 0 g, Protein: 2 g and Sodium: 240 mg
Coconut Chicken Curry: 5 g sugar
Other nutrients of interest: Calories: 367, Carbohydrate: 13 g, Fiber: 3 g, Fat: 21 g, Protein: 30 g and Sodium: 450 mg
Plum Almond Galette: 3o g sugar per 1 slice (1/8 recipe)
Other nutrients of interest: Calories: 372, Carbohydrate: 51 g, Fiber: 3 g, Fat: 17 g, Protein: 5 g and Sodium: 180 mg
A few take aways
- Total sugars includes both the sugars naturally occurring in fruits, vegetables, and milk products, as well as, sugars that are added to foods (e.g. sugar, brown sugar, glucose-fructose (how high fructose corn syrup is labelled in Canada), honey, maple syrup, concentrated fruit juice).
- The % Daily Value of 100 grams total sugars is equivalent to 20% of a 2000 calorie diet. According to Health Canada, “this value is not a recommended level of intake. Instead it is the amount of total sugars that is consistent with a healthy eating pattern”.
- The % Daily Value has bee included for total sugars to helkp consumers
- Compare the sugars content of different foods, and
- Understand the relative amount of sugars in the context of total daily consumption.
Visit the Canadian Sugar Institute and Health Canada for more information on the new food labels; what’s new, how to use them and more.
Disclaimer: this is a sponsored post by the Registered Dietitians at the Canadian Sugar Institute and I have been compensated monetarily for this post. The opinions/post are my own.
Doug Cook RDN is a Toronto based integrative and functional nutritionist and dietitian with a focus on digestive, gut, mental health. Follow me on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.