Why is Health Canada leading us astray?

Last year, after Health Canada ‘s  announcement  of  their  nutrition labelling initiative,  it appeared that  real change was on the horizon.  Rather than confusing Canadians about smart healthy eating choices, Health Canada, the federal agency mandated to protect our health, would be providing clear direction as to how to be an enlightened eater.  Health Canada planned to provide real guidance about sugars on nutrition labels.

Health Canada proposed including a line on the nutrition label for  “Added  Sugars” which would help consumers  separate the amount of natural sugars in foods such as  yogurt, cereal  or frozen fruit versus those sugars added.  This proposal sounded like a transformation in paths  for Health Canada. They have often been accused of considering the financial health of food companies over the physical health of Canadians. This nutrition labelling initiative  could have meant a new path where the government could help Canadians reduce their sugar intake and subsequently lower the risk for obesity and other chronic diseases.

But it may be just wishful thinking.  Here’s why:

Earlier this month, the World Health Organization (WHO) released new guidelines for the intake of  free or added sugars.  They recommend  adults and children reduce their daily intake of free sugars to less than 10% of their total energy intake. They now state that a further reduction to below 5% or roughly 25 grams (6 teaspoons) per day would provide additional health benefits.

As WHO has now come out with this guideline, as a dietitian, I would have thought that Health Canada might take this into account as they move towards new nutrition labels.  Instead of  proposing to provide consumers with information about how much added sugar we should consume in total, they had simply lumped together added and natural sugar totals.

They propose to include  % Daily Value (DV) – the total amount of all sugars we should be aiming for. The figure of 100 grams (25 teaspoons) per day includes natural sugars in food along with the added varieties. But putting the two together discourages the consumption of  nutrient-packed foods containing natural sugars such as fruit and even plain yogurt.

This could be costly to your health, according to the latest research. A Spanish study, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, looked at fibre intakes and all-cause mortality (deaths from all diseases) in more than 7200 subjects at high risk for cardiovascular disease over a period of almost 6 years.

It seems there is truth in the saying eating an apple a day keeps the doctor away:  those participants who consumed the most fruit compared to the least had a whopping 41% lower risk of all-cause mortality. Fibre intake was also associated with benefit.

It’s also worth noting that those who had previously not been fruit eaters at the start of the study but increased the amount they consumed during the research  had significantly lower risk of mortality than did participants with steady low fruit consumption. In other words, it’s never too late to meet your fruit quotas.

Now back to Health Canada’s stance.  Instead of a DV for total sugars, the DV should be listed for added sugars only.  But when I asked, given the recent WHO stance on sugars, if Health Canada is looking at modifying its recommendations, I was told that Health Canada has no plans to change their listing the total sugar DV or now including a DV for added sugars. Julie-Anne Lemire,  Media Relations Advisor for Health Canada states,

“Using 100 grams as the Daily Value, foods containing more than 15 g of sugars would be easily identified as having “a lot” of sugar (based on the benchmark that 15% or more of the Daily Value is considered to be “a lot” of a nutrient). Further, most foods identified as having “a lot” of sugars would be foods containing free sugars.”

So in other words, if you’re choosing a fruit, such as frozen mango pieces, with no added sugar, a cup portion with its 23 grams of natural sugar and 23%  of your DV of sugar, according to this statement, would be identified as a lot of sugars.

Instead, in keeping with the WHO statement, which Health Canada states they agree with,  the DV of 50 grams should be listed beside the Added Sugars. A can of cola with its 33 grams of sugar would then trigger a listing of 66 % beside the DV.  With the current plan, that cola would list its sugar as 33 % of your DV.

Health Canada, doesn’t that make more sense?


What are your thoughts” DV for Added Sugars or for Total Sugars? Please share in the comment section below.

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Categories: Nutrition News, Rosie's Rants

Author:Rosie Schwartz

Rosie Schwartz is a Toronto-based consulting dietitian and writer.

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3 Comments on “Why is Health Canada leading us astray?”

  1. Susanne Couture, RD
    March 25, 2015 at 11:23 am #

    As a Registered Dietitan, I find it very discouraging, but then I was very disappointed with the last CFG as well. For instance, why, when everywhere we look, the public is being told to down play meat (increase fish, dried legumes), is the first word in the protein group still “meat”? I must agree with my patients that the beef and pork lobbying groups have some great influence with HC. It doesn’t surprise me that other food industries have great influence as well. CFG should be based on scientific health evidence, not the “opinions” or the lobbying ($) strength of industry.
    I was at a local RD meeting last night and the fact that the local Nutrition Month committee made a point of NOT taking any Canada’s Food Guides with them to an event says it all. Not sure how many RDs use it in practise….personally, I don’t.

    I would LOVE it if you would start a petition to HC via change.org to change their style….IMHO they are right up there with AND and their Kids Eat Right “seal”.

    • March 25, 2015 at 6:09 pm #

      It is unfortunate that Health Canada doesn’t put the health of the country’s citizens first. Here we have an opportunity (nutrition labels don’t change often!) and Health Canada is not doing anything with it. Yes, putting in a line for Added Sugars on the label is a big first step but then the government retreated when it came down to real action. I’d love to participate in a petition but we need even more than that. We need a change in direction from Health Canada when it comes to food and health.


  1. Health Canada Just Banned Trans Fats. Should Sugar Be Next? - Vincci Tsui, RD - September 20, 2017

    […] from naturally occurring sugars on the Nutrition Facts table. Instead, they’re going to add a percent daily value for sugar that is not evidence- or consensus-based. They argue that their plan to group sugars together on the ingredients list will make it easier […]

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