The World Health Organization (WHO), addressing the topic for it’s first time, opened an online public consultation to facilitate the development of draft guidelines aimed at developing measures to cut public sugar consumption in half. Although WHO’s current recommendation, issued in 2002, advises limiting sugar to less than 10 percent of daily caloric intake, the organization believes that further reduction, to 5 percent, will help to decrease the prevalence of certain non-communicable diseases, particularly obesity and dental caries.
The focus of WHO’s campaign are the free sugars, also known as simple sugars, or simple carbohydrates, because they contain only one or two distinct molecules. Hence the names monosaccharides (fructose, glucose, and galactose) and disaccharides (sucrose, maltose, and lactose). A teaspoon of table sugar (sucrose) added to one’s coffee or tea does not come close to the massive amounts of so-called “hidden” sugars lurking in consumer food products such as soft drinks, cereals, and, even, ketchup.
Foods laden with simple sugars contribute to obesity in two very subtle ways; by their tendency to cause rapid swings in blood glucose levels and by their conversion to fat cells when consumed in excess. Fructose, for instance, ubiquitous as a sweetener for soda pop, consists of only one type of molecule and, therefore becomes available as instant energy for the body’s use. Individuals who habitually drink soda pop or eat packaged foods high in refined flours, may find themselves full after a quick meal. But, in a very short time, the sugars break down as the body uses them for immediate energy. Once this occurs, the person becomes hungry once again and the cycle continues. As these types of foods become consumed in excess, any sugar that doesn’t go to immediate use gets stored as fat. Obesity is a well-known risk factor for developing serious chronic maladies such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and coronary artery disease.
WHO believes that, by cutting sugar consumption in half, one can allow more nutrient-dense foods to enter the diet. These types of foods, which include proteins and fiber, command a complex molecular structure that breaks down more slowly in the body, thus gradually releasing sugars at a steadier rate. This allows for a longer feeling of satiety and the staving off of hunger for up to four or five hours.
The consumption of sugars in excess promote dental caries, or tooth decay, by providing a ready food source for destructive bacteria that linger on the teeth. In time, unhealthy teeth can lead to extremely painful conditions and functional disability through tooth loss. WHO sites dental disease as the most common non-communicable disease in the world, siphoning off 5 to 10 percent of health care budgets of industrialized countries, while exceeding the resources of poorer countries.
In light of the above, it should come as no surprise that excess sugar consumption can lead to a variety of chronic conditions that pose a threat to health care budgets worldwide. WHO’s open online consultation runs from March, 5, though March 31. WHO hopes to develop guidelines that implement measures to assess present sugar intake patterns relative to it benchmark goal, and to devise way of cutting sugar consumption in half.
By Robert Wisnewski