CBC MARKETPLACE: FOOD » SUGAR
Broadcast: March 9, 2004
In a recent report released by the World Health
Organization entitled "Diet Nutrition and the Prevention
of Chronic Diseases," (TRS916) leading health experts
are making new recommendations for governments on diet and
physical activity to combat rising chronic health conditions
such as obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and various
One of the most controversial recommendations
urges people to limit their daily consumption of free sugars
to less than 10 per cent of total energy intake. "Free
Sugars" are all monosaccharides and disaccharides (including
refined sugars from cane, beet and corn) added to foods by
the manufacturer, cook or consumer, plus sugars naturally
present in honey, syrups and fruit juices. While consuming
less sugar seems easy enough, it's actually a little trickier
than you'd think.
Today, a wide variety of sugars with different
names are used in the food preparation process. Table sugar
and maple syrup are no longer the only sweeteners in our diet.
Beth Mansfield loves to get in a good
skate along Ottawa's Rideau
Canal. But unlike some people out for a
traditional bit of Canadiana, she'll pass on the post-skate
treat of Beaver Tails, the deep fried, sugary snack.
'I don't think...we really
know how much sugar we're getting." Beth Mansfield
Mansfield's a speed skater. She's also a nutritionist
who says Canadians are eating way too much sugar.
“I don’t think as individuals
we really know how much sugar we’re getting at all.”
We come by the desire naturally. In the womb,
a fetus will swallow more when the amniotic fluid is sweet.
Our sweet tooth sure isn’t lost on the
makers of processed foods - every year they pour more sugars
into more products. Statistics Canada has some numbers on
how much we eat - about 23 teaspoons of added sugars everyday.
But that only includes refined sugars and honey
and maple syrup. Those 23 teaspoons don't include all the
other added sugars we get from corn sweeteners - the main
ingredient in pop. And, they don't include the sugars in fruit
"Juice can be pretty healthy," Mansfield
said. "But it’s kind of like liquid candy in some
ways as well, because it’s pretty much pure
sugar." While the sugars in pure fruit
juices are way better for you because along with sugar comes
loads of vitamins and minerals, pure fruit juices are loaded
with calories and can be as fattening as pop.
|TIP: To determine
how much sugar is in a serving, check the nutrition label
for Sugars (listed in grams). Divide the number of grams
by four. For example, in the image below, sugars are listed
as 12 g. Divide that by four and you get three teaspoons
of sugar per serving.
one is telling us to worry about the natural sugars in fruit.
After our all bodies, our brains, wouldn’t function
without some sugar.
If we were eating just all fruits and vegetables
and getting our sugars just from there we’d be way better
off," Mansfield said. "We’d have lower risk
of heart disease, cancer, you name it."
Add up all those sugars and some people are
eating more than half
their body weight in sugars every year.
More sugars mean more calories, which means more obesity and
more health problems like diabetes and heart disease.
New food labels may help decipher sugar content -
but they're not mandatory for two years
It’s a concern around the world. The WHO’s
10 per cent free sugar recommendation adds up to approximately
12 teaspoons of a sugar a day based on an average 2000-calorie
diet – so much less than we eat now that the report
provoked loud criticism from the sugar industry and the American
Cutting back to12 teaspoons a day is going to
be tough. Food labels, which meet Health Canada's new, labeling
guidelines, spell out exactly how much of the most common
nutrients we’re getting. Carbohydrates will include
totals for fibers and sugars. But the labels won't be mandatory
for another two years. And, until then, we’ll just have
to rely on the list of ingredients to determine how many sugars
are in the foods we eat.
We all know some of the guises of sugar:
- maple syrup
But what about:
- carob powder
- high fructose corn syrup
In order estimate the total number of sugars
found in foods several experts use a teaspoon of refined sugar
as a metaphor to give us a
sense of how much sugar we’re consuming.
For example, because there are 4 grams in every teaspoon of
refined sugar a product which contains16 grams of sugars per
serving would therefore translate into approximately 4 teaspoons
of sugars per serving.
Light peanut butter vs
regular peanut butter: light has more sugar
A can of
baked, for instance, with the old label, lists just the ingredients.
"I look through the list - white
beans, water, molasses, sugar, fructose, brown sugar,"
Mansfield said. "Lots of sugars in beans. You know what
really tastes good with beans is hot dogs…These Top
Dogs list pork, chicken, beef, water, salt, dextrose. So there
you go, I’ve got sugar down there on the list, so there
is some in there.”
And what goes well with hot dogs? A dash of
ketchup? Careful - a third of ketchup is sugar. And the bun?
Another half-teaspoon of sugar so the yeast can work its magic.
Marion Nestle is a professor of nutrition at
New York University. But she’s better known for Food
Politics, her exposé of the food industry. She applauds
the World Health Organization for encouraging us to eat less
"We’re seeing type-2 diabetes
in very young children now. This was never seen before, at
least not in the quantity that it is now. Rates have tripled
among young children in the last 10 years."
Looking for a health snack? Perhaps a granola
bar. Two teaspoons of sugar.
"I’ll look at some of these:
Fruit Rollups, Mellon Berry Blast," Beth Mansfield said.
"It tells me it’s made with real fruit, it’s
Well what’s in here? Corn syrup, sugar.
Concentrated pear puree, which is basically pear which is
sugar. Then sugar, then some oil, the list goes on and on.
So here in one of these little rollups, I’ve got 12
grams of carbohydrate which is pretty much all sugar –
so we’re looking at 3 teaspoons of sugar in one little
It’s not just kids who are at risk. Even
adults who are trying to lose weight by eating less fat, end
up eating more sugar than they may realize. Take light peanut
butter. The fat is reduced thanks to higher carbohydrate levels.
Marion Nestle says food manufacturers love
sugar so much because it’s so cheap.
"There’s an average of 3,900
calories a day available for every man woman and child - twice
what the country needs. Food companies have to make food as
cheap as possible so that more people will buy it and they
do that by putting in corn sweeteners. The more corn sweeteners
you have in a food, the cheaper it is on a per calorie basis.”
Nestle says she was not surprised when the
WHO report recommending we eat less sugar prompted a harsh
reaction from the sugar lobby in the U.S., and Canada. Randall
Kaplan of the Canadian Sugar Institute says there’s
no scientific proof sugar is what is making us fat or giving
"There's nothing specific about
sugar that you can conclude is causing the problem,"
Kaplan said. "I could say the same thing to you. Some
of it has to be milk, some of it has to be meat, potatoes,
you can say that about any food."
Nestle concedes you can't prove scientifically
that sugar along is to blame - but she says it is a contributing
"There's plenty of evidence now,
for example, that children who consume a lot of sugary foods
take in more calories, are fatter and have worse diets than
kids who don’t."
Cutting back sugar consumption to 10 per cent
of calories would mean a major change in our diet - and the
kind of food that we buy.
The World Health Organization is not just
telling us to eat less sugar, it’s telling governments
to make it happen. Marion Nestle says that’s what the
sugar industry is really upset about.
Can't single out sugar
- Randall Kaplan, Canadian Sugar Institute
World Health Organization is suggesting a ban on the marketing
of sugary foods to children, getting sugary foods out of schools,
maybe taxing them. They’re considering a whole range
of policy options that would reduce sales of these products
and that’s what the lobbying groups are concerned about."
Randall Kaplan says adopting those recommendations
won't help our obesity problem. And, he says, Statistics Canada
is wrong when it says we're eating more sugar than ever. His
institute did its own analysis.
"Total sugar consumption, as far
as our best estimates, hasn’t changed in about 20 or
That's sure not what the government statisticians
are telling us. Beth Mansfield says one thing is getting clearer
- those new food labels will soon make it easier to keep track
of the all the sugars we're eating.