For many, a spoonful of sugar won’t help this medicine go down: The World Health Organization (WHO) is revising the suggested amount of sugar intake. The organization previously held that the amount of sugar consumed should be 10 percent of total calories ingested. With a new proposed draft, that number is being lowered to 5 percent.
In order for Americans to accomplish this new guideline, sugar intake would have to be two-thirds lower, on average. For an adult considered normal weight, that works out to be about 50 grams a day, which is the equivalent of 12 teaspoons of sugar. The WHO reached this conclusion after extensively reviewing thousands of studies, said Dr. Francesco Branca, the Director of Nutrition for the WHO. He also realizes the revised number may be a hard concept to grasp. “We should aim for 5 percent if we can,” adding “but 10 percent is more realistic.”
These new limitations on sugar include monosaccharides, which consist of fructose and glucose, as well as disaccharides, or table sugar, for example. While this figure doesn’t include naturally-occurring sugars, such as those found in fruit, it does include added sugars and those that are present in fruit juices, syrups, honey, and juices from concentrate. A can of Coca Cola has about 39 grams of sugar, and a breakfast of two waffles with one-quarter cup of sugar has about 35 grams of sugar. Having both in one day would soar over the WHO’s recommended sugar intake.
If the proposed new limits to the WHO’s draft is approved, some think it could prove to be a challenge to the way companies produce food with added sugars. Dr. Robert Lustig, a pediatric endocrinologist who garnered attention after becoming vocal about the extreme dangers of sugar when consumed in excessive amounts in children predicts just that, if the sugar threshold is lowered. “I think breakfast cereal is going to have a really hard time justifying its existence,” he said regarding those cereals that are often marketed to children. His take on the WHO’s proposal? Less is more. “The less sugar you are eating, the better.”
It has been over a decade since the WHO last adjusted suggested sugar intake amounts. When it did, Congress faced an uphill battle against the sugar industry’s threats to influence a cut in funding to the WHO. In spite of their efforts, the recommendation passed anyway. Nutritionist Katharine Jenner thinks the WHO has acted too slowly with its latest efforts, adding, “It is a tragedy that it has taken 10 years for the WHO to think about changing their recommendation on sugar.”
WHO warned that the danger lies in the hidden sugars added into many processed foods. They maintain that too much sugar leads to obesity and cavities. While the WHO has remained adamant, there is not a universally agreed upon amount when it comes to sugar consumption. The American Heart Association suggests that no more than 8 percent of daily calorie intake should be sugar. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control recently released a study that found overconsumption of sugar can lead to heart disease and other fatal heart problems.
Along with the proposal of new nutrition labels by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the WHO’s sugar intake recommendation being reconsidered, awareness may soon be spreading about the dangers of unhealthy eating and how it is affecting the health of children today. Adds Dr. Sally Davies, Britain’s Chief Medical Officer, there are great number of people who, “because they are overweight, may not live as long as my generation.”
By Nathan Rohenkohl