Now that we know we can't eat meat or dairy, here's another food category to scratch from the menu: sugar.
In new draft guidelines announced March 5, the World Health Organization says your daily sugar intake should be only 5 percent of your total calories – half of what the agency previously recommended. WHO's expert panel came to the conclusion after analyzing 9,000 scientific studies about the health effects of sugar.
That includes sugars added to foods and those present in honey, syrups and fruit juices, but not those occurring naturally in fruits.
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“There is increasing concern that consumption of free sugars, particularly in the form of sugar-sweetened beverages, may result in both reduced intake of foods containing more nutritionally adequate calories and an increase in total caloric intake, leading to an unhealthy diet, weight gain and increased risk of noncommunicable diseases,” WHO says in a statement “Also of great concern is the role free sugars play in the development of dental diseases, particularly dental caries.”
Dr. Francesco Branca, WHO's director for nutrition, conceded that while 5 percent should be the new target, if people can reach 10 percent, they should be pretty happy about that. Five percent would be equivalent to around 25 grams (around 6 teaspoons) of sugar per day for an adult of normal Body Mass Index (BMI).
Americans and other Westerns eat waaay more than that: Their average sugar intake would have to drop by two-thirds to meet WHO's suggested limit, according to the Washington Post.
“The less sugar you're eating, the better,” Dr. Robert Lustig, a professor of pediatrics at the University of California and author of a book about the dangers of sugar, told the Post. “If the sugar threshold is lowered, I think breakfast cereal is going to have a really hard time justifying its existence.” (Honestly, Sugar Honey Cocoa S'mores Puffs With Marshmallows have gotten a little out of control.)
WHO last revised its sugar guidelines more than a decade ago, incensing the U.S. sugar industry when it suggested people limit their intake to just 10 percent of their diet. Wonder what Sugah Inc. is going to say now?
WHO's expert panel found high sugar consumption strongly linked to obesity and tooth decay, and warned that many of the sugars eaten today are hidden in processed foods.
WHO's new guidelines could force manufacturers to rethink how much sugar they use in processed foods such as bread, sauces, condiments and salad dressing. Lustig says the amount of sugar in processed food is an “absolute, unmitigated disaster.” One tablespoon of ketchup contains a teaspoon of sugar, for example. A single can of sugar-sweetened soda contains up to 10 teaspoons of sugar, according to WHO.
New nutrition labels proposed by the FDA will require food manufacturers to list any added sugars, so they will be more difficult to hide.
After a public comment period (feel free to speak up for sugar if you wish), WHO will finalize their guidelines March 31. The final guidelines will provide countries with recommendations on limiting the consumption of sugar to reduce public health problems like obesity and tooth decay.
And after that, we'll all be living on twigs and coffee.
See also: Nutrition Labels Getting Major Overhaul