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Taking the Lead Worldwide

By SugarScience Editor

The World Health Organization (WHO) has put a historic stake in ground on the subject of sugar and health, issuing new guidelines that call upon countries to reduce the consumption of added sugar. The UN group continues with its recommendation that both adults and children limit their intake of added sugar to less than 10% of total daily calories. What’s new is its conditional guidance that it may be best to keep added sugar below 5% of daily calories. That’s 25 grams (6 teaspoons) per day for a 2,000-calorie diet.

This is welcome news to the SugarScience team on several fronts. First, the WHO is providing an excellent example of international guidelines based on science, which is validation for attempts in the United States to do the same. The WHO’s inclusion of the 5-10% of calories limit also aligns with the recommendations of the American Heart Association (AHA), which are the guidelines our team has used at SugarScience. 

While the average American consumes almost three times that limit, we’re not alone in doing so. The WHO reports that sugar intake varies broadly by country, ranging from 7.5% in rural South Africa to about twice that in countries like Spain and England. The report cites much higher rates for children worldwide, rising to 25% of total calories in Portugal.

Interestingly, the WHO committee arrived at these limits by weighing the evidence of sugar’s role in causing excess weight gain, obesity and tooth decay, for which it found strong scientific evidence of benefits in reducing added sugar to below 10% of all calories. The AHA, in contrast, drew its suggested limits of 6 and 9 teaspoons per day, for women and men, based on the impact of sugar consumption on cardiovascular health. 

The WHO decided to make the 5% guideline conditional, as there are only three large-scale studies to assess the benefits of reducing sugar below 5%. All three showed benefits at that level in reducing cavities, the leading chronic disease of American children.

As with the limits we recommend through SugarScience, these only apply to added sugar, not the natural sugars found in fruits and vegetables or in milk, as there is no reported evidence of negative effects of consuming sugar in those forms. 

Today’s announcement by WHO gives further impetus to what’s going on here in the United States, where the secretaries of the USDA and DHHS are considering adoption of a brand new US dietary guideline that would match WHO’s upper limit of 10%. If adopted, this would be the first time in American history that we would have a government dietary recommendation for added sugar like the ones we have for fats and salt. 

From the SugarScience perspective, we hope this gives our officials the validation they need to approve the recommendations of the USDA/DHHS scientific advisory committee.

World Health Organization

The World Health Organization (WHO) is the directing and coordinating authority for health within the United Nations system. It is responsible for providing leadership on global health matters, shaping the health research agenda, setting norms and standards, articulating evidence-based policy options, providing technical support to countries and monitoring and assessing health trends. Website: http://www.who.int

SugarScience Glossary

Added sugar

Any sugar added in preparation of foods, either at the table, in the kitchen or in the processing plant. This may include sucrose, high fructose corn syrup and others.

SugarScience Glossary

Sugars

Sugars are chemicals made of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen found which taste sweet and are found in food. They are an important part of what we eat and drink and of our bodies. On this site, sugar is used to mean simple sugars (monosaccharides) like fructose or glucose, and disaccharides like table sugar (sucrose). Sucrose is two simple sugars stuck together for example (see Table sugar). Sugars are a type of carbohydrate. Carbohydrates are energy sources for our bodies Sugars enter the blood stream very quickly after being eaten.

SugarScience Glossary

SugarScience is the authoritative source for evidence-based, scientific information about sugar and its impact on health.

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