World Health Organization: New Public Guidelines on Sugar Intake

World Health Organization

As the World Health Organization (WHO) releases their new recommended sugar intake makes news today, it turns out that Mary Poppins might not have been far from the mark in recommending just a spoonful of sugar. A recent update from the WHO reports that they will be starting a new public consultation on establishing guidelines for sugar intake. After years of research that has suggested the dangers of high levels of sugar consumption, the WHO finally take a position on the matter.

Just little more than a few spoonfuls, the World Health Organization says that the daily intake of sugar should be no more than 5 percent, which is a 50 percent reduction in the WHO’s previous recommended value of 10 percent. This includes all forms of sugar added to food such as honey, fruit juices, and syrups like high-fructose corn syrup. The experts involved in the WHO’s research found that consuming food with high sugar content is strongly associated with health problems like tooth decay and obesity. The influence that sugar has in causing problems like obesity sparks a chain reaction that leads to the development of other chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

For many Americans sugar intake is highly misunderstood. While there is an awareness of the risks involved with consuming too much sugar, it is not always easy to know how much is too much just by looking at the food itself, or the labels for that matter. Something as common as ketchup can be easily overlooked when it comes to sugar content, yet in just one tablespoon of ketchup there is at least one teaspoon of sugar. The WHO argues that most people lack a solid understanding of just how much sugar is hidden in the processed or packaged food they are consuming.

Limiting sugar intake to 5 percent a day means very little when not understood in practical terms. If the average daily values are based on a 2000 calorie diet, 5 percent of 2000 calories equals about 100 calories a day. The amount of sugar added in food is measured in grams, and as a carbohydrate, one gram of sugar converts to about four calories. That means that the recommended amount of sugar is about 25 grams per day. That would require the average American to reduce their daily sugar intake by 66 percent. Needless to say, 25 grams of sugar does not go very far.

The new guidelines for reducing sugar intake established by the World Health Organization might not be easy for people to adopt. The many common food products fulfill the daily recommendation in a single serving. Something like one 12 ounce can of original Coke can have upwards of 39 grams of sugar, which automatically puts the person consuming it over the daily recommended limit. And less obvious products like low-fat milk are largely overlooked.

Reading over low-fat milk labels, sugar content ranges anywhere from 11 grams of sugar per eight ounces to 27 grams per one cup, with sugar content rising above 28 in fat-free milk products. With most people never linking low-fat milk with high sugar content, consumers do not realize that lactose, a carbohydrate, is a disaccharide sugar derived from glucose and that taking the fat content out of milk essentially reduces its nutritional content to just sugar alone.

Experts involved in the WHO’s research panel on sugar reviewed over 9,000 studies and concluded that dropping daily sugar percentages will help reduce the incidence of health problems associated with tooth decay or obesity. Dr. Robert Lustig, professor of clinical medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, argues that the less sugar people eat, the better, but this will undoubtedly cause frustration for processed food companies. Lustig continued to explain that food manufactures will have to reassess their use of sugar in processed food such as soups, pasta sauces, salad dressings, and even bread.

The  World Health Organization explains that their new guidelines will apply to all monosaccharides, like glucose or fructose, and disaccharides like sucrose or table sugar that are added by food manufactures or are incorporated as part of home cooking, as well as naturally occurring sugars. The WHO’s new public guidelines will clear up many of the misconceptions surrounding sugar consumption and help reeducate people on appropriate levels of sugar in their diet, as well as the very real harms associated with high level sugar usage. Ultimately this will help greatly reduce the incidence of health problems associated with high level sugar consumption and the chronic diseases that can develop as a result.

By Natalia Sanchez


SF Gate