How much sugar is in packaged foods? A lot.
A new study from researchers at the University of Waterloo and the University of Toronto finds that two-thirds of packaged and processed foods on the shelves of Canadian stores contain added sugar, a result which has led to call for revamped food nutrition labels.
There’s an increasingly wide variety of processed and prepackaged foods – any foods that have been changed, altered or added to, ranging from canned fruits and vegetables to prepared meals and entrées – available in today’s grocery stores. Yet along with their convenience, portability and extra long shelf life comes the problem for the consumer of having to gauge how healthy and nutritious the product really is once it’s been worked on by the manufacturer. Food labels are there to provide all the information we need but it’s not always easy to figure out the contents of the item you’re holding, so says the lead author of new study published in the journal CMA J Open, Dr. David Hammond of the School of Public Health at the University of Waterloo.
“We found that there are more than two dozen different ways that added sugar was labeled,” says Dr. Hammond to the Canadian Press. “It’s almost impossible for a consumer to figure out whether a product has added sugar. Most consumers don’t know names like maltodextrin, which is a common form of added sugar.”
The research team looked at over 40,000 packaged food products for sale in March 2015 at a major national grocery retailer and found that the ingredients lists for 66% of the products contain at least one added sugar. The amount of added sugar varied within different product categories but the researchers found added sugars to be consistently higher in the beverage category and snack foods but also within supposedly healthy alternatives, yoghurts and even baby foods.
“We find that three-quarters of all beverages had added sugar, that products that often people associate with a healthy alternative, things like snack bars – I think it was 99.4 per cent of snack bars contained added sugars. We even found that about half of baby food included added sugar,” says Hammond.
This study comes on the heels of new regulations for food labelling adopted last month by Health Canada which, contrary to the wishes of health advocates, do not include a requirement for product labels to define which sugars naturally occur in a food product and which ones have been added. This has been seen by critics as a win for the food industry and a setback for consumer advocacy and health.
Speaking on the new Health Canada regulations, Dr. Hammond says, “I think that’s a real missed opportunity and when you line that up with what we found in terms of the number of products and the amount of added sugar in these products I think it’s a real shame,” said Hammond.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration just this month issued a new set of guidelines on food labelling which includes the requirement that products declare the amount in grams of added sugars.