09/09/2014 11:53 EDT | Updated 11/09/2014 05:59 EST

Sugar intake should be slashed, says Heart and Stroke

Canadians should curb their sugar consumption to no more than 10 per cent of overall calories or about 12 teaspoons a day, the Heart and Stroke Foundation advises.

The group said Tuesday that excess sugar consumption is linked to heart disease, stroke, obesity, diabetes, high blood cholesterol, cancer and cavities. Canadians currently consume about 20 per cent of their daily calories as sugar.

"We want Canadians to focus on reducing added sugars, not the sugar that occurs naturally in vegetables, fruit and other foods that are also packed with nutrients such as vitamins and fibre. You cannot compare those healthy choices to a can of pop that is loaded with sugar and has no health benefits — just health risks,” the group’s president, Bobbe Wood, said in a release.

Currently, Canadians likely consume about 72 grams of added or free sugars, or about 18 teaspoons.

The foundation wants to reduce that to 10 per cent of total calories or about 48 grams or roughly 12 teaspoons of sugar for an average 2,000-calorie-a-day diet.

As the name implies, added sugars are those added to foods and drinks and include glucose, fructose, sucrose, brown sugar, honey, corn syrup, maple syrup, molasses, fruit puree and juice.

Sugars naturally found in fruit, vegetables, milk, grains, legumes and nuts aren’t considered added sugars.

The recommendations are in line with those of the World Health Organization, a spokeswoman said.

Ideally, Canadian should limit their intake of added or free sugars to less than five per cent of calories consumed a day, the group said in a position statement.

Sugar-sweetened beverages such as soft drinks, sports drinks, fruit drinks and juices and ready-to-drink tea and coffee beverages are the single largest contributor of sugar in the diet.

The group also made other recommendations:

- Consumers should limit restaurant meals and processed foods and cook with fresh, staple foods.

- The federal government should adopt the proposed sugar thresholds; restrict marketing of all foods and beverages to children, and adopt a tax on energy-dense, nutrient-poor beverages, with the funds used to make fruits and vegetables more affordable.

- Provincial and territorial governments should tax sugar sweetened beverages.

- Municipalities, regional health authorities, workplaces and school boards should create zoning laws to prevent fast food outlets and convenience stores from being built within walking distance of schools and should ban fundraising via junk food.