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What’s the Sweet Deal with Added Sugar? Healthy U’s Spooktacular take on a Trick or a Treat!

Don’t let added sugars do the ‘scaring’ this Halloween!

With Halloween around the corner, sugar will be top of mind, especially for kids! Instead of avoiding added sugar altogether, finding a balance is key so that you can still enjoy these yummy treats and stay on track with your health goals. Thinking ahead … the upcoming back-to-back holidays come with fun and memorable traditions, and also a potential treat overload. If you think about it, there are more than 5 upcoming holidays over a three month period. We have Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, New Years, Valentines Day, and March Break … to consider! Wowza! During these times, desserts are circulating in office workplaces, there are leftover Halloween stashes available at our fingertips, we are booking buffet style getaway vacays, or there is an increase in grazing tendencies with less structure during mealtimes. SO, what to do? Our October newsletter is here for you!

Let’s start by defining ‘added sugars’.

The World Health Organization defines ‘free sugar’ as any sugar added to a food or drink, including cane juice, corn syrup, brown rice syrup, barley malt, agave. Or the sugar that is already in honey, syrup and fruit juice. Foods that have high amounts of free sugars tend to offer less nutritional value.

This definition does NOT include sugars found naturally in white milk, plain yogurt, vegetables, and fruit. These foods also contain other vitamins, minerals, and fibre which provide health benefits, and are considered part of a healthy diet.

It has been estimated that Canadians consume on average 120g of sugar per day, of both FREE sugars and foods that contain sugar naturally (milk, yogurt, vegetables, fruit). This ends up being comparable to 26 teaspoons of sugar, or 21% of total energy intake, based on a 2,000 calorie-a-day menu.

Now that we know what ‘free sugars’ are, how much should we (or could we) include in our menu?

According to:

1. Health Canada

Added sugars should be limited to no more than 25% of total energy. For example, if your total calorie intake for the day is 2000 calories, then no more than 500 calories should be consumed from added sugars (which is 125g, approximately 30 teaspoons). This amount was advised in order to avoid displacing essential micronutrients by overconsumption of added sugars. The guidelines suggest choosing foods with little to no added sugars (<8g of sugar per serving) and choosing water as your drink of choice.

2. Diabetes Canada

Limit intake to less than 10% of the total daily caloric intake. What does this look like? Well, on a 2000 calorie diet this would be no more than 200 calories per day from added sugars, which is equivalent to 50 grams (approximately 12 teaspoons). Diabetes Canada also suggests replacing sugar drinks with water and encouraging the consumption of whole foods to support overall longevity and health.

3. Heart & Stroke Foundation

The Heart and Stroke Foundation guidelines align with Diabetes Canada, in that no more than 10% of your total energy requirements should come from added sugars. However, they even went as far as recommending less that 5% of your total calories per day come from added sugars would be advantageous and support overall health. AND on a 2000 calorie diet this would be no more than 100 calories per day from added sugars, which is equivalent to 25 grams (approximately 6 teaspoons).

4. World Health Organization

The World Health Organization strongly recommends limiting added sugars to under 10% of total energy intake for adults and children, to reduce the risk of dental caries. There is further recommendation to reduce added sugars beyond 5% total energy intake to reduce the risk of lifelong dental caries and excess energy intake.

Let’s have some FUN and check your sugar IQ!

How many teaspoons of sugar (1 tsp = 5g = 1 packet of sugar) do you think are in the following foods & beverages?

Food & Beverage Guess How Many Tsp Sugar?

Food & Beverage

Guess How Many Tsp Sugar?

A. 1 can Regular Soda

B. 1 large regular fountain drink

C. 1 cup 100% fruit juice

D. Starbucks Grande Caramel Frappuccino

E. Tim Hortons medium Iced Cappuccino

F. 1 chocolate bar

G. 1 blueberry muffin

H. Baskin-Robbins Strawberry Shake

I. ¾ cup Activia yogurt

J. 1 medium carton chocolate milk

K. Sports drinks (e.g. Powerade)


  1. 12

  2. 21

  3. 9

  4. 15

  5. 15

  6. 13

  7. 12

  8. 40

  9. 7

  10. 14

  11. 9

What's Healthy U’s take on ‘Added Sugar’?

Let’s go with majority rules, which brings us to limiting our intake of added sugar to 10% of our daily energy needs:

This is equivalent to:

  • 200 calories;

  • or 50 grams;

  • or 12 teaspoons

This is comparable to 1 full size chocolate bar, or 3-4 small treats per day! Now keep in mind, we make some exceptions for the actual days we celebrate, but in between, let’s do our best to keep it more balanced. Now, if this seems too little for you (or too much), the most important message if you are building balance on your plate with multiple food groups. We all know chocolate is not super satiating (but so delish). However, adding a bowl of yogurt and berries to your sweet chocolate treat is a lot more satisfying!

Here are some other Spooktakular tips:

Tip #1 – Halloween Coupons:

The week following trick-or-treating, give your kids a set number of coupons that they can cash in for treats (e.g., 7 coupons valid for 3 treats each). Once all the coupons have been used up, the rest of the candy can get donated (or stored for later use).

Tip #2 – Witch’s Visit

After trick-or-treating, ask your kids to leave their candy outside their bedroom door. During the night, a witch (you!) visits your child and switches the candy for a toy or activity they would love. It’s a win-win!

Despite the debate over Halloween candy, generally speaking, when it comes to instilling healthy dietary behaviours in kids, parents are the key role models! Parents that adopt and model healthy habits may see the same positive changes mirrored in their children. A gentle reminder: healthy eating happens every day (which can include a sprinkle of treats), and even on the spookiest day of the year!

BONUS RECIPES just for YOU! For low-sugar treat options the whole family will love, check out some of my favourite fall recipes!

Major Contributors: Elisa Porretta, Geneviève Perron and Abby Muriella


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