Four days ago the World Health Organization proposed a new set of recommended guidelines that reduced the recommended daily sugar intake to levels well below what the average American consumes. These prospective new guidelines maintained the previous recommendation that no more than 10 percent of one’s daily caloric intake should come from sugars. However the WHO’s new guidelines also introduced a secondary caveat that advises further reducing sugar consumption to less than 5 percent of the daily caloric intake for “additional benefits.”
To put this into perspective, 5 percent of a 2,000 calorie diet is only 100 calories, or just over 25 grams of sugar a day. Even if one chose to forgo the “additional benefits” of the idealized sugar-reduced diet, opting to limit sugar consumption to less than 10 percent of calories consumed daily only allows for 200 calories (50 grams) a day.
When motivated to learn more about what they consume, most consumers are shocked by how much sugar is in their food—even in seemingly healthy and unsweetened foods. A single serving of Campbell’s tomato soup (which is not a full can but rather half a cup) already contains 12 grams of sugar. A single cup of low-fat vanilla yogurt contains 34 grams of sugar. And a can of juice may contain as much as 35 grams of sugar. Needless to say, following these new guidelines would necessitate implementing drastic changes to the average American diet.
Currently, it is estimated that the average American consumes a diet of 2,673 calories a day. Of those around 352 calories come from sugars. That’s 88 grams, or 22 teaspoons of pure table sugar. Such values are well over 50 percent greater than even what the current, less restrictive WHO guidelines recommend.
The World Health Organization cites many health problems associated with excessive sugar intake as justification for these potential guideline changes. Such problems include obesity, diabetes, and tooth decay. The WHO also hopes that the new guidelines will draw attention to “hidden” sources of dietary sugar and make consumers more aware of their dieting habits.
While the most egregiously over-stuffed sources of sugars are candy, soda, and other junk-food, it is important to realize that there are also many sources of sugars that are decidedly healthy. For example, a skinned apple contains 11 grams of sugar, raw broccoli has two grams, and raw green tomatoes have seven grams. While these foods have significantly less sugar than pre-packaged foods, there is still sugar. In attempting to comply with the reductions in daily sugar intake recommended by the WHO, it is also important to keep in mind that not all sources of sugar are bad. Fruits in particular, despite containing decent levels of sugar, are also important sources of dietary fiber and vitamins.
These new guidelines are still only in drafted form. The World Health Organization’s website will be open to comments on the reduced dietary sugar intake recommendations and other points of these new proposals through the end of March. Before these recommendations become concrete, peer-reviews of the new guidelines and review of public opinion (including posted comments) will be conducted.
By Sarah Takushi