Using NEW Food Labels to Help Understand the Sugar Content of Food and Make Healthier Choices

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Do you find food labels confusing and are not sure how to read them to understand the sugar content of foods?  Well, you’re not alone! Read on to find out more about food labelling for sugars and how to use them to make healthier choices.

New food labelling changes coming by December 2021

Health Canada introduced changes to food labels in 2016 to help Canadians understand the sugar content of their food. These changes include:

  • New Nutrition Facts table on packaged food
  • New % Daily Value (DV) for sugars
  • Sugars are now grouped together on the ingredient list

Manufacturers could begin implementing these changes starting in 2016 and have until December 2021 to meet these new regulations.

What will the changes look like?

New Nutrition Facts Table

Source: Sugars, Health Canada

A new % Daily Value for total sugars has been added which allows you to compare the sugars content of different foods.  A new footnote to help interpret the % Daily Value has also been added.  Remember, 5% or more is a little; and 15% or more is a lot.

Keep in mind, while the % Daily Value for total sugars is based on 100 grams; this is not a recommended intake level, but rather an amount of total sugars that is in line with a healthy eating pattern, where most sugars come from fruit, vegetables and plain milk.

Did You Know?

The nutrition facts table only lists total sugars, which includes both naturally occurring sugars present in fruits, vegetables and dairy products, as well as sugars added during processing or preparation.

Read on to learn how to spot sugars added to foods and beverages using the new list of ingredients.

New list of ingredients

The changes will now have sugars grouped together on the ingredient list in brackets, by weight and in descending order after the name ‘sugars’.

This will allow you to spot sugars that have been added to the food and also see the amount of sugars added to the food compared to other ingredients. Keep in mind, naturally occurring sugars from fruits, vegetables and dairy sources are not listed on the ingredient list – only added sugars are listed.   

Source: Sugars, Health Canada

The above example shows you there’s more fancy molasses by weight than brown sugar or sugar. As well, it shows you there’s more sugars in the food by weight than any other ingredient.

What to look for the in the list of ingredients to spot added sugars

The below includes some common sugars added to foods:

  • sugar, beet sugar, cane sugar, raw sugar, brown sugar
  • agave, honey, maple syrup, barley malt syrup, fancy molasses, coconut sugar,
  • fructose, glucose, glucose-fructose (high fructose corn syrup), corn syrup, maltose, sucrose, dextrose,
  • concentrated fruit juice, purée concentrates

Hint: Words ending in “ose” are usually sugars.

What do sugar claims mean on your food products?

Manufacturers can also add nutrient content claims specific to sugar that can help you choose foods that have less sugars.  The table below outlines some of these sugar related claims and what they mean:

Nutrient Content Claim What it Means

Free of Sugar

No Sugar
0 Sugar

Zero Sugar
Without Sugar

A specific amount of food has less than 0.5 grams of sugars AND less than 5 Calories. The amount of sugar is so small it likely won’t have any effect on your body.  

Reduced Sugar
Less Sugar
Lower Sugar
Lower in Sugar
The food is modified so it has at least 25% less sugars than the similar food to which it is compared   

No added sugar
Without added sugar

The food contains no added sugars
The food has no added sugars or sweeteners (i.e. aspartame, sucralose)

Remember the claims highlighted in the table above are optional for manufacturers to add to food labels, so always look at the Nutrition Facts Table to help choose foods.

Take away:

  • Canada’s Food Guide recommends choosing foods with little to no added sugars and recommends replacing sugary drinks with water.
  • Reading the new nutrition labels can help you understand the sugar content of your food.
  • Use the % Daily Value to help compare foods and choose the one with less sugars. 
  • As well, look at the ingredient list to spot sugars added to the food and remember the ingredients are now grouped together and listed in descending order by weight so if the first few ingredients are sugars, then there’s more sugar than any other ingredient.  

For more information on food labelling changes see: Food labelling changes, Health Canada

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