Dear Prime Minister Justin Trudeau,
As a practicing registered dietitian in Canada, it is indeed wonderful to see the example you set for our fellow Canadians. The headlines about your possibly being the fittest world leader and the articles about your fitness activities – yoga and boxing, for instance – show the citizens of our country that healthy lifestyles are indeed important. Your family hikes this summer demonstrate that an active healthy lifestyle is important not only to grownups, but for the entire family.
With young children heading off to school I can only imagine that you, like most Canadian parents, want to ensure that you are filling their lunch boxes with tasty wholesome foods that will promote good health. It is in this vein that I am writing to you today.
In 2015, the World Health Organization (WHO) released new guidelines for the intake of added sugars. They recommend adults and children reduce their daily intake of added 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.
Naturally occurring sugars bear no resemblance to added sugars. Fruit, for example, contains natural sugars, but offers a cornucopia of health benefits. While I am a registered dietitian, it doesn’t take a specialized knowledge to understand the difference between the almost 19 grams of sugar in an apple versus that found in 5 teaspoons of table sugar.
There’s a reason for the saying an apple a day keeps the doctor away. In one study, those subjects who consumed the most fruit compared to the least had a 41% lower risk of all-cause mortality. Fibre intake was also associated with benefit. Those participants who had previously not been fruit eaters at the start of the study but increased the quantity they consumed during the research had significantly reduced risk of mortality than did participants with steady low fruit consumption.
Added sugars (with an assortment of names), on the other hand, are linked to an increased risk of obesity, cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Simply listing the two together, without an Added Sugars line, discourages the consumption of nutrient-packed foods containing natural sugars such as fruit and even plain yogurt.
In 2015, Health Canada proposed separating added sugars from natural ones with an Added Sugars line on nutrition labels. In the U.S., the Added Sugars line on nutrition labels will be mandatory for most companies by 2018. Meanwhile, though it’s clearly important information to enable Canadians to make the best choices for themselves and their families, Health Canada decided against requiring companies to disclose the amount of added sugar. As far as I understand, the only stakeholder who stands to benefit is the food industry.
If Health Canada’s mandate is to protect the health of Canadians, this is an egregious failure to do so. As a father and a practitioner of a healthy lifestyle yourself, I urge you to review the research yourself and for you to let me know why Canadians are not deserving of this important information which will help them make healthier choices and prevent diseases.
Rosie Schwartz, RD