Heart & Stroke Foundation’s new sugar guidelines

Let me preface this post by saying it’s no secret that I love sugar and I would be the last person to advocate a completely sugar-free diet. I’m a proponent of the “sugar in moderation” approach: some maple syrup in homemade granola bars, peach crisp at a family gathering, splitting dessert with your significant other on date night are all fine and dandy!

Heart and Stroke Foundation's new sugar guidelines

But all the sugar in processed foods these days is an entirely different ball game. From kids’ breakfast cereals to fruit “beverages” to super-sized soft drinks at movie theatres to yogurt with more sugar per serving than a chocolate bar… sugar is everywhere! And this is a problem for our waistlines and our health.

Luckily Canada’s Heart and Stroke Foundation thinks so too, as they just recently released a new position statement on “Sugar, Heart Disease and Stroke”. This statement urges people, the government, and food industries alike to make some big changes, and I think it has the potential to be a giant leap forward in the battle on sugar .

Heart and Stroke Foundation's new sugar guidelines
Photo credit: heartandstroke.com

To save you the trouble of reading it (although it’s a good read if you have time), I’ve broken out the parts that are important for you to know:

1. It uses the term “free sugars” instead of “added sugars”

  • “Free sugars” = any sugars added to a food, including sugars naturally found in fruit juice
  • “Added sugars” = any sugars added to a food, not including fruit juice

I think this is an important distinction because adding fruit juice to a product is still adding sugar. I mean, should we really be saying gummy fruit snacks are a healthy choice just because they’re made with added fruit juice? No!!! So kudos to the Heart and Stroke Foundation for going with the stricter definition that includes added fruit juice as something that should be limited.

Heart and Stroke Foundation's new sugar guidelines

2. It recommends limiting free sugars to less than 10% and ideally less than 5% of total calories

This is consistent with the World Health Organization’s recommendations from earlier this year. However, both these recommendations are a huge difference from the Institute of Medicine’s dated recommendation to keep added sugars less than 25% of total calories. Let’s think about that for a minute. If you eat 2000 calories per day, that means 500 calories (or 119 g – about 30 tsp!) can come from added sugar… which is the equivalent of more than 3 cans of Coke. I think that’s a bit excessive for a healthy upper limit, don’t you?

Keeping sugar less to than 10% of calories (or 48 g – about 12 tsp) is a much better recommendation to help prevent some of the health issues associated with excess sugar, such as obesity, heart disease, and diabetes. But it might not be easy to stick to. You’d be surprised how quickly your sugar intake can add up to 48 g without even drinking pop or eating dessert!

For example you would be getting more than 48 g of free sugar if you ate a cup of Kashi Go Lean Crunch cereal, a serving of vanilla Greek yogurt, chicken with barbecue sauce, a tablespoon of regular peanut butter, a salad with bottled dressing, and a granola bar over the course of  a day, amongst other foods. That doesn’t sound like a crazy sugar-filled day does it? Yet it would be over your recommended free sugar intake of 10% of calories for a 2000 calorie diet.

So getting sugar intake down to this intake level is going to take more than recommendations and individual effort… it means the government and food industry is going to need to get involved too. Luckily the HSF considered this in their position statement:

3. It makes hefty recommendations to the government and food industry

  • It recommends restricting marketing of all food and drinks to children
  • It smacks down on sugary drinks by recommending a tax on sugary drinks as well as limiting their portion sizes at food service outlets to 500 mL
  • It recommends the government create targets for the food industry to reduce free sugars in its products

Heart and Stroke Foundation's new sugar guidelines Photo credit: Wikipedia Commons

So that’s the gist of Heart and Stroke Foundation’s new position statement. I wholeheartedly agree with it and I’m glad to see such an influential organization making such a big statement against sugar. I hope it will be a stepping stone towards a healthier, less sugary future!

What do you think about these recommendations? Do you agree/disagree? Do you think these recommendations will spur government and food industry action?

16 Comments

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16 Responses to Heart & Stroke Foundation’s new sugar guidelines

  1. Wow you are awesome of breaking this up for us..really interesting read, Chelsea! It’s promising to see a government authority taking a stricter stance on sugar, especially given how many studies reveal its link with various diseases. Although time will tell how it affects manufacturers, hopefully the increased awareness will empower consumers to make healthier choices.

    • Chelsea

      The only way manufacturers will change is if the government mandates it. Here’s hoping they do and we see some changes to sugar recommendations and food industry practices in the near future!

  2. I think this is a step in the right direction!

  3. Isn’t it crazy how changing one word can make such a big difference, and it really can! Don’t even get me started on fruit snacks! When I was coaching last year, the athletes would be CONSTANTLY eating them, like 2-3 bags at a time, and they would say “but they are fruit”….YES! In the same way that cherry pop tarts are fruit! You know I am all with you for enjoying sweet treats, but its the fake, deceptive ways that really annoy me. And I am glad the Heart and Stroke Foundation are starting to make a stand.

  4. AMEN. Now let’s see if the government and its citizens actually listen…now that’s a whole other ballgame.

    • Chelsea

      Haha yup! But with The HSF, WHO, and now Dietitans of Canada supporting this sugar guideline, there is a lot of pressure on the government…

  5. I love me some sugar, but I also agree that we eat way, WAY too much of it… and what bothers me even more is that labels can be so deceptive and trick people into believing that they’re being healthy when they’re not. Thanks for summarizing the article! It’s good to see a step in the right direction, and I really hope people listen!

    • Chelsea

      Seriously right? I think another big part of the problem though is that people are still slightly stuck in the fat phobic era of the 1990s, so they still think a product with sugar is better than a product with fat.

  6. I definitely think the new terminology is a step in the right direction. So many brands get away with healthy claims because they are “sweetened with fruit juice”!

    This is the cynic in me though: I don’t think this position statement will lead to a lot of change despite their recommendations and urging. There are simply too many political interests and too much money wrapped up in the current food system. What I hope it does do is to prompt consumers to make different choices so that through consumer backlash against products with a lot of sugar, companies and the government are forced to make changes. A step in the right direction though!

    • Chelsea

      Part of me wonders whether guidelines will actually change too… but with The HSF, WHO, and now Dietitians of Canada on board with recommending a maximum of 10% of energy from sugar, I think there is a LOT of pressure on the government. I think we will see changes, but probably not to the extent that we want.

  7. YES! I love how you guys up there are framing this- here in Australia, they are finding (Stupid) ways to improve our diets…like traffic lights, fake sugars and paleo. Thanks for breaking it down- I love the correlation.

    There is definitely room for sugar in our diets- but unfortunately, not all of us are wary of how much is in each food or product.

    • Chelsea

      I’ve heard of the traffic light system here too. It seems alright, but it’s not teaching people to eat whole foods, which is what I think should be the focus.

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  9. I think these recommendations are a great step towards a healthier future. But I think that consumers need more than guidelines because we have learned not to listen to guidelines…

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