Heart & Stroke Health Check™ nutrient standards for sugar

Heart&Stroke Health Check™ is a food information program with nutrient standards based on Canada's Food Guide. The Health Check symbol can help you choose foods in grocery stores and restaurants that can be part of a healthy diet. Each food product and restaurant dish in the Health Check program is evaluated by the Heart and Stroke Foundation's registered dietitians on the basis of fat, sodium, fibre and sugar as well as protein, vitamins and minerals, depending on the item. All participating food manufacturers and restaurateurs must meet these nutrient standards in order to display the Heart&Stroke Health Check symbol. Here are the nutrient standards for sugar.


Sugar is the No. 1 food additive. It is in a variety of packaged foods, from yogurts and cereals to salad dressings, pop and ketchup. If sugar makes it to the first or second item on an ingredient list, the food product is likely to be very high in sugar. According to the Canadian Sugar Institute, Canadians consume about 63 grams of sugar a day from prepared or packaged foods, accounting for more than 12% of calories a day, based on 2,000 calories. Sugars are what nutrition experts call empty calories. That means they are high in calories without contributing to overall nutrition. Every gram of sugar equals four calories.

Detecting sugar in food products, though, requires some detective work. Sugar comes in many forms. White sugar is made from sugar cane that has been refined; brown sugars, on the other hand, are either partially refined, or have been fully refined with molasses added back to give it that brown colour.

Manufacturers also use honey, maple syrups and corn sweeteners. These may be listed in the ingredient lists under these words: glucose, dextrose, fructose, maltose or sucrose.

Whatever you call it, sugar by any other name is still as sweet. Too much of it can be unhealthy, so it must be consumed in moderation.

That's why Carol Dombrow, the Heart and Stroke Foundation's registered dietitian for Health Check, recommends cutting back on baked goods, desserts and sweetened beverages, and replacing refined sugars with complex carbohydrates in the form of fresh fruit, vegetables and whole grains – foods that fill you up and are nutritious too.

Heart&Stroke Health Check nutrient standards for sugar

Currently, there are no accepted scientific national or international limits on sugar consumption. However, Canadians are increasingly concerned about sugar in foods because of the growing obesity problems in this country. Canada's new Food Guide has recently recommended limiting sugar intake, so Heart&Stroke Health Check has called for adding a sugar limit to food categories noted in Canada's Food Guide as potentially higher sources of added sugar: cereals, muffins and snack breads, grain-based bars, cookies, and sorbet and fruit bars. These criteria will help us work with companies to reduce the sugar in foods that meet our other nutrient standards.

Heart&Stroke Health Check has set standards on these food items: