Sugar Making You Fat? The WHO Thinks So

Do you already watch your sugar intake? Well, the World Health Organization recently released even stricter recommendations. Find out what you need to know here...

March 14, 2014

Sugar should account for less than 5 percent of what people eat each day if they are to avoid health risks such as weight gain, tooth decay and more, the World Health Organization said last week. Issuing new draft sugar guidelines, WHO said its recommendations were based on "the totality of evidence regarding the relationship between free sugars intake and body weight and dental caries". Free sugars include those added to foods by manufacturers, cooks or consumers, and sugars naturally present in honey, syrups, fruit juices and fruit concentrates.

It said the 5 percent level should be an ideal target for people to aim - but also reiterated a "strong recommendation" that sugar should account for no more that 10 percent of total energy intake. Five percent of total energy intake is equivalent to around 25 grams (around 6 teaspoons) of sugar per day for a normal weight adult. So how much exactly is a gram of sugar? One teaspoon of granulated sugar equals 4 grams of sugar. To put it another way, 16 grams of sugar in a product is equal to about 4 teaspoons of granulated sugar.

Keep in mind, though, that the grams of sugar listed on the nutrition information label includes natural sugars from fruit (fructose) and milk (lactose) as well as added sweeteners like refined sugar or high-fructose corn syrup. That’s why the label on a carton of regular low-fat milk says there's 13 grams of sugar per cup.

Marion Nestle, in her blog Food Politics, brings up an interesting point regarding the “new” guidelines…. “Although the announcement casually mentions that the draft guidelines reaffirm a previous WHO sugar guideline from 2002, it just as casually fails to mention what happened to that guideline…In 2003, it published a research report that advised restricting intake of “free” (added) sugars to 10% or less of daily calories. Although this percentage was similar to that embedded in the USDA’s 1992 Pyramid (7–13% of calories, depending on total intake), sugar industry groups strenuously objected, enlisted senators from sugar-growing states to pressure the DHHS secretary to withdraw funding from WHO, and induced the DHHS chief counsel to send a critique of the report to WHO that had essentially been written by industry lobbyists. When released in 2004, WHO’s Global Strategy on Diet, Physical Activity, and Health omitted any mention of the background report or the 10% sugar recommendation…”

She goes on to reiterate that, “One 12-ounce Coke or Pepsi contains about 40 grams of sugars. Have one, and you’ve just about done your added sugars for the day.”

Whether you need the World Health Organization or another industry group to suggest you decrease your sweets consumption, SupermarketGuru generally thinks it’s a wise decision. Sugar is thought to be one of the contributing factors to inflammation, a process that is implicated in many of today’s health problems, from Alzheimer’s to heart disease to arthritis.

Always read labels and if you can make your own sweet treats at home, as you can control all of the ingredients. Keep in mind that a new nutrition facts panel is in the works. Read more about the proposed changes here.

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