Added sugar in the packaged foods and beverages available at a major Canadian retailer in 2015: a descriptive analysis

CMAJ Open. 2017 Jan 12;5(1):E1-E6. doi: 10.9778/cmajo.20160076. eCollection 2017 Jan-Mar.


Background: Excess consumption of added sugars has been associated with a variety of health problems, but there is little information available characterizing added sugar in the Canadian food supply. This study examined the presence and types of added sugars in the packaged food and beverage products available at a major Canadian grocery retailer.

Methods: We searched the ingredients lists of over 40 000 packaged food products available for sale in March 2015 for a variety of added sugar terms. Proportions of food products containing added sugar were identified overall and within food product categories. Differences in total sugar content were identified between food products with and without added sugar.

Results: Overall, 66% of the packaged food products analyzed contained at least 1 added sugar. The added sugar term "sugar" (and its variations) appeared the most frequently, followed by "dextrose." Added sugar presence and total sugar content varied within many product categories but were consistently higher in expected categories such as "beverages." Mean total sugar content was significantly higher in products with added sugar than in those without, both overall (p < 0.001) and within most product subcategories (p < 0.02).

Interpretation: About two-thirds of the packaged foods and beverages available at a major Canadian grocery retailer contain added sugar, similar to recent patterns estimated for the US food supply. The results provide an estimation of the baseline characterization of added sugar in the Canadian food supply, which can be used to assess outcomes of future changes to sugar labelling policies in Canada.