The health costs of a sweet tooth

Let’s face it – it’s hard to avoid sugar

Sugar occurs naturally in foods such as fruit, milk and vegetables. But it’s also added to most of the packaged food we eat – cookies, soft drinks, candy, cakes, pastries and other sweet treats – as well as non-sweet options like sauces and condiments.

Food and drinks with added sugar have lots of calories but usually contain few nutrients – and they don’t help you feel full for long.

Sugar and cancer

While sugar as an ingredient does not increase your risk of developing cancer, what it does to your body can. Eating too much sugar means you’re more likely to put on weight. And research shows that obesity increases your risk of cancer.

The World Health Organization and leading Canadian health organizations recommend that no more than 10% of our total daily calories should come from sugar. Ideally, it should be less than 5%.

For an average 2,000-calorie-a-day diet, 10% is about 48 grams, or 12 sugar cubes.

One of the best ways to make sure you’re not eating too much sugar is to read nutrition labels. If sugar is one of the first few ingredients, the product is probably not a great choice.

Infographic showing added sugars contribute to weight gain and obesity, which can increase cancer risk

Sugar has a lot of names

Tip: ingredients ending in “ose” are usually sugars.

There are many types of sugar. If you see any of these names on a list of ingredients, you’ll know you’re eating sugar:

agave nectar, brown sugar, buttered syrup, dextrose, cane sugar, evaporated cane juice, fruit juice, lactose, galactose, maltose, raw sugar, Demerara sugar, honey, ethyl maltol, icing sugar, white sugar, date sugar, glucose, corn syrup solids, cane juice extract, fructose, carob syrup, fruit purée, maple syrup, maltodextrin, molasses, golden syrup, high-fructose corn syrup, sucrose, Turbinado sugar, treacle.

Skip the sugary drink

Sugary drinks have little or no health benefits, but Canadians sure drink a lot of them. In fact, sugary drinks are the single greatest contributor of sugar in our diets!

Sugary drinks include:

  • pop or soft drinks
  • energy and sports drinks
  • flavoured waters
  • sweetened coffees and teas
  • flavoured milk
  • drinkable yogurt
  • fruit drinks
  • 100% fruit juice

6 tips to cut down on sugar

Read nutrition labels
This will help you avoid foods high in added sugar. For example, choose whole grain breakfast cereals that have at least 4 grams of fibre and less than 5 grams of sugar per serving. 
Rethink your drink
Drink water instead of soft drinks and juice drinks. Try diluting 100% fruit juice with sparkling water if you find it hard to give up soft drinks. Gradually reduce the amount of sugar you take in your coffee or tea.
Be ready for cravings
Avoid the sudden drop in energy that comes after choosing cookies for a mid-afternoon snack. When you’re craving something sweet, try a piece of fruit with low-fat yogurt or nuts.
Reduce sugar in recipes
Try using half the amount of sugar you would usually use in recipes. It works for most things except jam and meringues.
Check your condiments
Cut down on sauces such as ketchup, barbecue sauce, honey mustard and plum sauce. They’re usually very high in sugar.
Limit how often you eat processed foods
Sugar is added to foods to make them taste sweeter. Control how much sugar is in your food by preparing it yourself.