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Proposed daily limits, labelling rules to give consumers better handle on sugar intake

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Three glasses of orange juice or two small containers of vanilla yogurt would set you at your daily sugar limit if Health Canada's proposal pans out.

Last week, the federal agency announced its plans to set a daily limit on sugar intake as well as revamp nutrition labels so consumers can easily spot how much of the sweet stuff manufacturers have added to packaged foods.

The announcement comes on the heels of other dire warnings from global health organizations about sugar and its link to obesity and disease.

In June, Dr. Margaret Chan, the World Health Organization's director general, warned that many are literally "eating themselves to death."

"Our children are getting fatter," she went on to say, noting she has established a "high-level commission" on ending childhood obesity.

Earlier this year, the organization announced plans to recommend sugar make up only five per cent of our collective caloric intake. For an adult, that's about six teaspoons of sugar or one glass of juice.

Health Canada's proposed recommendations about sugar aren't so drastic: The agency would suggest that Canadians consume 100 grams of sugar daily. Like WHO's proposal, the naturally occurring sugar in juice would count towards the daily limit since it has the same effect on the body as table sugar.

For years, nutrition experts pointed to saturated fat as the main culprit responsible for the majority of weight gain and heart disease. (Saturated fat or animal fats raise blood cholesterol levels, which in turn narrow arteries. Fat is also calorie-dense so that a relatively small amount packs a big caloric punch).

Today, more health experts are backing out of their war on saturated fats and turning their sword toward sugar.

The shift is warranted.

We know overloading your system with refined carbohydrates such as sugar can overwhelm your system and lead to insulin overproduction. Insulin is a necessary, life-saving hormone that removes sugar from the bloodstream. But it also helps the body store belly fat. Too much insulin can trigger intense hunger and a cycle of overeating. All of these factors can lead to metabolic syndrome and Type 2 diabetes, an ailment that is killing millions of Canadians.

Some heath professionals claim that excess sugar can actually suppress the immune system. (The physician-run website askdrsears.com states that sugar can hinder the ability of white blood cells to fight infection by 40 per cent.)

Health Canada's proposed recommendations about sugar are a step in the right direction. However, it's up to Canadians to take action to protect their own health.

You've heard it before. Here's another reminder about how you can limit your sugar intake:

  • Scan labels for honey and other forms of sugar. When you see sucrose, glucose, fructose, honey, corn syrup, cane sugar, cane syrup, molasses and dextrose near the top of an ingredient list, think twice about what you're ingesting. These forms of sugar are just as unhealthy as table sugar.
  • Read the nutrition label on packaged foods. Zoom in on the carbohydrate grams listed on the label, particularly the sugar content. (Carbs include starch, sugar and fibre. Keep in mind that fibre is a "good" carb; it has no impact on blood sugar levels and can help reduce blood cholesterol.)
  • Limit ketchup and barbecue sauce. Believe it or not, these two condiments are mostly sugar. (One tablespoon of ketchup equals four grams of sugar. It would take only six tablespoons to meet WHO's proposed 25 grams daily limit of sugar). Barbecue sauces are just as sweet. Many chili sauces are also highly sweetened. Check labels.
  • Avoid fruit juice. Even though fruit juice is "natural" and does contain vitamin C, that's no reason to down juice regularly (unless it's the day you're running a marathon). Because juice contains no fibre, it makes blood sugar levels skyrocket. Want vitamin C? Take a supplement. Better yet, eat a whole fruit. Whole fruits contain fibre that slows your absorption of sugar and helps you feel full and satisfied -- something that juice cannot accomplish.
  • Cane sugar, brown sugar and raw sugar are just like white sugar. It's a myth that brown sugar is more natural than white sugar. Sugar is sugar. They all contain four grams of sucrose in a teaspoon. They all enter your bloodstream at the same pace.
  • Think of honey, agave syrup and maple syrup as liquid sugar.
  • Eat plain yogurt rather than flavoured. Sure, they both contain probiotics, healthy bacteria that promote gut health. But flavoured varieties -- especially the low-fat versions -- are also extremely high in sugar. (One small container can contain more than a Twinkie.) If plain yogurt straight up is too sour for your taste, add a handful of berries, dried fruit or a sweetener of your choice. That way, you can control your yogurt's sugar content.


Have an interesting story idea you'd like Shamona to write about? Contact her at shamona.harnett@freepress.mb.ca.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 21, 2014 C1

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Updated on Monday, July 21, 2014 at 6:56 AM CDT: Replaces photo

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